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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Pilot Program Aims To Free-Up Space In Montana's Jails

A new law passed last year aimed at easing overcrowding in Montana’s jails isn’t rolling out as fast as some state officials had hoped. But it could be put into effect in the coming months.

The new pretrial release plan would allow the state to let some people, who are not a risk of skipping their trial or committing another crime, to stay out of jail.

The hope is it will lead to fewer people in jail, freeing up space.

Beth McLaughlin, a member of the Montana Board of Crime Control, told lawmakers Tuesday that it’s disappointing the program isn’t already implemented.

McLaughlin says the pilot program is nearly ready to kick off in Lewis and Clark County.  And she says other counties will get their training in the new program in April.

"So, I'm optimistic that we’ll be up and running the first of May in all of the counties."

She says rollout got hung up on the complexity of the data system that helps countries judge who is and isn’t a good candidate for pretrial release.

The countries participating in the pilot program are Lewis and Clark, Missoula, Lake, Butte-Silver Bow and Yellowstone Counties.

The pretrial release pilot program is part of a bipartisan package of criminal justice bills passed out of the last regular legislative session.

It was spurred  by a 2017 report that found that spending on correctional facilities would have to increase by $69 million through 2023 unless the state adopted new policies.

The same report said Montana's statewide jail population rose 67 percent from 2011 and 2013, and the average length of stay in a Montana  jail is longer than the regional average.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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