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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

MT Legislature Considers Bill to Reform Sentencing Guidelines

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Credit Legislative Services
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The Montana Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill to help people get housing after they are released from prison.  The bill’s sponsor said taxpayers foot the bill, but the cost can be reduced.

Senator Cynthia Wolken, D-Missoula, said the Department of Corrections reported as of this morning about 120 people have been granted parole.

“So, the parole board has determined they are not a danger to the public,” she said. But instead of being released, “they’re sitting in a prison bunk bed because they can’t find housing. We pay out of the general fund $3600 a month to house these people.”

Wolken, an attorney, said a better alternative is to allow the Department of Corrections to offer offenders a housing voucher that’s good for up to 3 months. That would give the individual to find a job and more permanent housing.

Wolken estimated issuing these vouchers will cost the state about $200,000.

“I know it’s hard to ask people to help fund housing for offenders but when offenders don’t have places to live they re-offend and they go back to prison which is very expensive,” she said.

Senate Bill 65 won preliminary approval in the Senate after it was amended to prevent the state from seeking federal funds to develop or administer the supportive housing grant program.

This measure is part of a package of bills to come from the Commission on Sentencing. The panel was charged studying current sentencing policies and suggest ways to improve the process and, when possible, save money.

Wolken, who chaired the Commission on Sentencing, is sponsoring the bulk of the bills. 

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