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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Bills Would Boost Housing, Recovery Options For Native Americans Leaving Prison

Sen. Jennifer Gross. sponsored Senate Bill 144, which would update laws dealing with stalking and restraining orders. File photo.
Montana Legislature

Native Americans who have been incarcerated in Montana need more help finding housing and re-entering their communities. That’s the premise of a bill introduced in the Montana Senate Friday.

Billings State Senator Jen Gross is bringing the bill (SB-13) on behalf of the legislative State-Tribal Relations Committee. The committee recently studied options for improving outcomes for American Indians who enter and leave incarceration.

Gross says, “American Indians are overrepresented in our prisons and just in the justice system overall."

Although American Indians make up about 7 percent of the state’s total population, they represent 33 percent of the women in prison and 20 percent of the men, according to a report from the State-Tribal Relations Committee.

The bill would require the state grant funds that help people find stable housing after incarceration be spent in a way that benefits American Indians equal to the percentage of Tribal members in incarceration.

In 2017 state lawmakers created the housing grants. The program’s $400,000 funding expires in June of this year. A separate request is being made to continue the funding.

Jordan Thompson, an attorney with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, testified in support of the bill. He also spoke on behalf of the Blackfeet Nation.

“With improved housing, folks are able to accomplish things like probation, staying sober, and complying with just other requirements that they need, and also just being healthy members of the community,” Thompson said.

No one stood in opposition to the bill during its Friday hearing.

Another bill awaiting introduction (HB-4) will request the creation of a re-entry cultural programing grant. If established, it would supply $150,000 in funding to support traditional recovery support, recidivism prevention, and community resources for American Indian offenders.

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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