Criminal Justice Reform
For the last four decades, this country has relentlessly expanded the size of our criminal justice system, needlessly throwing away too many lives and wasting trillions of taxpayer dollars. We need reform so we are not stuck with a criminal justice system that is unproductive, wasteful, and dominated by racial disparities. Bad policies are made, and bad policies can be changed.
The ACLU of Montana focuses on the following key issues for reforming Montana's criminal justice system:
- Public Defense
- Effective sentencing/diversion
- Drug law reform
The ACLU of Montana advocates for reform in the legislature, in the courts and by working in collaboration with key stakeholders in the Montana justice system.
In 2002, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in Montana seeking reform of the state’s public defense system. The lawsuit was brought in response to widespread dissatisfaction with a county based system that resulted in gross disparities in the quality of representation provided from county to county; a lack of supervision, oversight, and the data collection necessary for proper supervision and oversight; public defenders who lacked the resources necessary to provide constitutionally adequate services; and clients who suffered serious injuries as a result of the system’s failures. The lawsuit was ultimately settled when the Attorney General’s Office agreed to collaborate with the ACLU to fashion a legislative solution. The legislation was passed in 2005 and resulted in the creation of a statewide public defense system.
In 2015, we published "Locked in the Past: Montana's Jails in Crisis" that not only addressed the crisis of the correctional system in Montana, but also the possibilities for reform.
- 1Smith v. Batista (July 2013): The state cannot use pentobarbital in its lethal injection protocols. This case placed Montana in a de facto death penalty moratorium.
- 2Montana v. Madsen (September 2013): Someone restrained by law enforcement is a prisoner regardless of whether he or she has been convicted.
- 3Fish v. Acton (September 2012): Inmates at Montana Women's Prison were discriminated against by being forced to participate in the "Right Living Community" and denied the chance to participate in boot camp.