JRI Year: 2017
In 2015, Montana’s prisons were at capacity due to an 11 percent increase in the prison population between 2008 and 2015. The prison population was projected to grow another 13 percent by 2023, requiring at least $51 million in new spending. Additionally, the statewide jail population rose 69 percent between 2011 and 2013 and many jails were over capacity. To address these challenges, state leaders began using a JRI approach with technical assistance from the CSG Justice Center in 2015. The Montana Commission on Sentencing—which includes commissioners from all three branches of government, policymakers, and other stakeholders—met multiple times between September 2015 and October 2016 to review analyses and develop policy options to ease capacity issues and reduce recidivism.
Of 12 bills recommended by the Commission on Sentencing, Montana enacted nine pieces of legislation. Senate Bills 59, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65, 67, Senate Resolution 3, and House Bill 133 codify the JRI policy framework developed by the Commission on Sentencing. Signed into law in the spring of 2017, these policy and practice changes allow more discretion regarding the length of incarceration for people sanctioned for low-level violations of the terms of their supervision, prioritize supervision resources for people who are most likely to reoffend, and help counties reduce jail populations.1
By adopting these policies, Montana avoided spending millions of dollars to build new correctional facilities between 2018 and 2023. This allowed the state to reinvest those savings in strategies designed to reduce recidivism and increase public safety. Those funds supported developing a pretrial grant program, hiring additional supervision officers, transitioning the parole board from a part-time volunteer board to a full-time professional board, and developing a supportive housing grant program.
For more information, see Justice Reinvestment in Montana.
JRI-Driven Policies and Practices
- Reclassify/redefine drug offenses
- Reclassify/redefine property offenses
- Revise sentencing enhancements
- Revise mandatory minimums
- Establish sentencing commission/revise sentencing guidelines
- Improve/revise pretrial release systems
- Establish/revise presentence assessment
- Revise parole hearings/decision/eligibility standards
- Establish parole board member qualifications
- Improve behavioral health interventions
- Establish/expand earned discharge (probation/parole)
- Authorize administrative jail sanctions
- Authorize/develop/modify graduated responses or matrices for violations
- Cap revocation time
- Require/improve risk-needs assessment
- Require evidence-based practices
- Require fiscal impact statements
- Require data collection/performance measures
- Establish/extend oversight council
Other JRI-Funded Projects
In Montana, in partnership with the CSG Justice Center, the state committed to a system-level approach to better data across their criminal justice system and received intensive short-term technical assistance as a Founding State in the Justice Counts initiative.
1 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2023, Justice Reinvestment in Montana, New York, NY: The Council of State Governments Justice Center, retrieved May 18, 2023 from https://csgjusticecenter.org/projects/justice-reinvestment/past-states/montana/.