MTPR

Chief Justice: 'The State Of Montana's Judiciary Is Stressed'

Jan 25, 2019

The head of the Montana Supreme Court says drug and alcohol abuse continues to weigh down the state’s justice system.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath this week delivered the State of Judiciary address to lawmakers of the 66th legislative session.

"Frankly, the state of Montana’s judiciary is stressed," McGrath says.

He says child abuse and neglect cases in the state increased 150 percent since 2009, burdening the health department, justice system and other social services.  According to the state health department, their rate of caseload growth has slowed over the last year.

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath.
Credit Josh Burnham / Montana Public Radio

But courts are still struggling to keep up. Chief Justice McGrath says the judiciary is close to being overwhelmed.

While alcohol is a factor, he says the primary concern is methamphetamine.

“It is these cases that put the spotlight on the most serious problems facing our state.”

During the last legislative session several bills were passed to aiming to address the rising numbers of foster care cases. 

This session, the judiciary is asking lawmakers to fund two existing drug courts that are running out of money and risk shutting down.

Drug courts are an option for people to stay out of incarnation and navigate a substance use disorder. These kind of courts tend to begin with a federal start-up grant, which lasts for about three years.

When that federal money expires, the state judiciary considers if it’s worth the state picking up the cost of the court. Drug courts can also start with private grant money, as was the case with one in Lake County, which started with a grant from the Gianforte Family Foundation.

At any given time there are about 550 people in drug court in the state. However the demand for those services are about three times that.