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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

State Sentencing Commission To Examine Native Incarceration Rate

A bill asking for the end of capital punishment was voted down.
Courtesy Two Rivers Authority
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Tuesday, Montana lawmakers will hear testimony on the growing concern that Native Americans are disproportionately represented in state prisons and jails.

Tuesday, Montana lawmakers will hear testimony on the growing concern that Native Americans are disproportionately represented in state prisons and jails.

Native American people are seven percent of Montana’s population, but make up 19 percent of all arrests. Native Americans also make up more than a quarter of all parole supervision and failure to appear arrests.

Billings Attorney Majel Russell is a member of the Commission on Sentencing that is meeting Tuesday.

She says tribal and state law enforcement don’t have an effective partnership when American Indians commit crimes outside a reservation. And that makes it difficult for Native Americans to comply with state probation programs, which can lead to time in jail or prison.

“And a lot of times if that person does not live in the city, they live on the reservation, it becomes a hardship for them to actually comply with all of those requirements of the state court.”

Russell says some people can’t afford to drive off the reservation for a DUI school or to check in with their probation officer, and a fix for that would be to offer those services on the reservation.

“And that may be a way to keep that person out of jail and still work on the issues.”

Russell says this would need a groundbreaking partnership between tribal and state law enforcement programs.

Montana’s jail incarceration rate is growing faster than any other state in the region. It increased by 67 percent between 2011 and 2013.

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