The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Montana Department of Corrections and officials at the Montana Women’s Prison in September 2012 over illegal and discriminatory treatment of women’s prisoners. Unlike male prisoners at Montana State Prison, female prisoners are forced to participate in a mandatory “treatment” program entitled “Right Living Community” or to serve their time in solitary confinement. In addition, female prisoners are deprived of the opportunity to attend boot camp, an intensive program that provides male prisoners with educational and training opportunities and the chance for a reduced sentence. An October 2013 settlement both secured women prisoners access to boot camp and ended the Right Living Community at Montana Women’s Prison.
In 2006 voluntary boot camp for female prisoners was replaced with the “Right Living Community,” a system in which prisoners are forced to live in “therapeutic” communities where privileges were based upon their participation in meetings and homework and could be taken away by other prisoners who ranked higher in their pod’s hierarchy. Those who refused to participate were placed in solitary confinement with no work opportunities and limited educational opportunities.
Right Living Community provided little in the way of education or training, forced female prisoners to engage in degrading activities like singing children’s songs or talking about their favorite color, and opened them up to retaliation from other inmates. Furthermore, there was no defined timeline for the program. It did not provide female inmates an opportunity for a reduced sentence or probation.