Missoula County, Montana

Summary

Missoula County – Montana’s second-most-populous county, encompassing an area equal to the size of Delaware – is in the western portion of the state surrounding the city of Missoula. The county has worked to address racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in the local justice system, including the disproportionate number of Native Americans in the Missoula County Detention Facility (MCDF). As a result, local leaders and jail staff have expressed a commitment to providing culturally relevant programming in the Missoula County Detention Facility, namely by supporting wellbriety groups and special programs such as Regaining the Warrior.

To build on past efforts, Missoula County was awarded $700,000 from the Safety and Justice Challenge in 2018 to safely reduce its jail population with the goals of: reducing the number of short-term jail admissions; promoting social justice by addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities; and increasing behavioral health treatment services for justice-involved persons.

To continue safely reducing the jail population, the county plans to implement six key strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders. These strategies include diverting individuals to behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, increasing use of public safety assessment, providing post-booking stabilization and services to low-income individuals, and providing outreach and education about indigenous cultures and racial disparities.

 

  • People of color continue to be over-represented in the local jail population, including a disproportionate number of Native Americans. There are four times as many Native Americans incarcerated in the MCDF than Native Americans in Missoula County. Specifically, 14 percent of MCDF inmates identify as Native American, compared with 3 percent of county residents who identify as Native American.
  • Roughly 30 percent of the jail population has been identified as having a substance abuse or mental health issue. This is higher than the estimate for the general U.S. population that indicates 18.5 percent of adults experience a mental illness in each year.
  • Pretrial defendants and behavioral health needs are key drivers of the jail population. The jail pretrial population alone was 34.4 percent in 2017. In 2017, approximately 64 percent of all low- and low-moderate-risk defendants remained detained beyond three days, spending an average of 12.6 days in jail.
  • To continue safely reducing the jail population, the county plans to implement six key strategies aimed at addressing system inefficiencies and disparities, meeting the needs of those with behavioral health and substance abuse issues, and instituting non-jail options for lower-risk offenders.
  • Strategies include: implementing prosecutor- and law enforcement-led diversion programs, increasing use of a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool, providing post-booking stabilization, and providing outreach and education about indigenous cultures and racial disparities.
  • Some highlighted strategies include:
    • Improvements to case processing efficiency;
    • Development of cite-and-release policy for law enforcement; and
    • Enhanced services for those with mental illness or substance abuse issues who are involved with the justice system.

Supported with $700,000 from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Missoula County will implement forward-looking, smart solutions to further reduce the local jail population by 18 to 22 percent over the next two years.

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