News Release: New Report – Criminal Justice Reinvestment in Montana: Improving Outcomes for American Indians

Today, the Montana Budget and Policy Center released its latest report titled Criminal Justice Reinvestment in Montana: Improving Outcomes for American Indians.

Montana is currently undertaking a significant criminal justice reform effort, making this an ideal time to incorporate important changes that can help reduce incarceration and recidivism rates for American Indians,” said Heather Cahoon, state-tribal policy analyst for the Montana Budget and Policy Center and enrolled member of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

In 2015, the Montana legislature created a fifteen-member Commission on Sentencing to study Montana’s criminal justice system and propose evidence-based policy solutions. The Commission found:

  • Montana prisons are over capacity with populations expected to increase an additional 13 percent by FY 2023;
  • County jail populations increased 67 percent between 2011 and 2013, leading to overcrowding;
  • Arrests by local law enforcement increased 12 percent between 2009 and 2015;
  • Bail/bond revocation arrests increased 109 percent;
  • Failure to appear arrests increased 189 percent; and
  • Parole violations increased 241 percent.

Based on these findings, the Commission developed a series of bills presented to the 2017 Montana legislature. With broad bipartisan support, the 2017 legislature enacted nine of the 12 Commission recommendations.

“In Montana, American Indians represent only seven percent of the total population, but are 20 percent of the men in Montana prisons and 33 percent of the women in Montana prisons,” said Cahoon. “This hurts families and Native communities, and is costly for the state. But there are policies that can significantly improve this situation.”

The report examines a number of evidence-based solutions and best practices to reduce the rate of incarcerations, reduce recidivism, and improve outcomes for American Indians in the criminal justice system.

State policy recommendations from the report include:

  • Establishing tribal reentry programs based on the concept of holistic defense to assist individuals with obtaining driver’s licenses, education/GEDs, legal assistance, transportation, employment, housing, food, cultural mentoring and peer support groups, as well as medical, mental, and behavioral health care;
  • Locating a probation and parole officer on each reservation or entering into cooperative agreements with tribes to utilize reservation-based supervision services to satisfy state probation requirements and monitoring for tribal members;
  • Ensuring that substance use and mental health treatment is more readily accessible both inside and outside of the justice system;
  • Accepting reservation-based evaluations, urinalysis, and treatment;
  • Providing mandatory cultural competency and related trainings for state corrections staff;
  • Making accessible culturally-relevant American Indian programming within the state corrections system and allowing American Indians to participate in cultural practices while incarcerated;
  • Integrating culturally-based, trauma-informed therapies into treatment programs; and
  • Increasing the availability and range of educational, vocational, and work experience opportunities for incarcerated individuals.

The Montana Budget and Policy Center (MBPC) is a nonprofit organization providing in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. Our core focus is publishing credible, timely, and easy-to-understand reports on the fiscal policies that most impact low and moderate-income Montanans. Our research and analysis then inform public policy, the media, and the broader public. To learn more about MBPC, visit our website

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