Criminalization of Poverty
Our failed criminal justice system is two-tiered: one system for people who can afford to buy their freedom, and another that traps people living in poverty in a hopeless maze with injustices at every turn. This unjust system disproportionately harms the poor, Indigenous people, and people of color. Here’s how we’re changing this unjust system:
Reform the Probation and Parole System:
Probation and parole too often set people up to fail. In theory, probation and parole are meant to help people return to their communities. In practice, they are significant feeders of mass incarceration. The primary reasons why people return to state custody from probation or parole are either 1) unmet mental health or substance use disorder treatment needs or 2) unmanageable costs associated with supervision requirements.
- What we’re doing: Led by justice-involved community members, we are advocating for state-wide policies that reform the probation and parole system and ensure that people have access to community-based treatment in urban, rural, and reservation areas. By expanding access to treatment services, we will reduce the number of probation and parole revocations, and ultimately help more people successfully reintegrate into their communities. The result: Healthier and more vibrant communities, increased public safety, and saved tax-payer dollars.
- Stories from justice-involved community members, and their families.
- Set Up To Fail: Montana's Probation and Parole System, our research on people in the probation and parole system.
Decrease Barriers for People Returning to Their Communities:
The vast majority of people who are incarcerated or under community supervision are meant to be released, return to their communities, and reunite with their families. The current system makes this nearly impossible for those who are poor, which too often results in more time needlessly incarcerated. People returning to their communities face barriers to employment and housing, making it more likely they will end up back in jail or homeless.
- What we’re doing: Working with impacted populations and allies, we’re advocating for improved access to housing, employment opportunities, and peer support for people re-entering their communities.
End the Cash Bail System:
Roughly 60 percent of people in Montana’s jails have not even been found guilty of a crime. That’s because after an arrest - wrongful or not - a person’s ability to leave jail and return home to fight the charges often depends on money. Even though the law says you are innocent until proven guilty, if you can’t pay bail, you are locked up before you are ever convicted of a crime. The threat of indefinite detention makes it more likely that you will plead guilty to something you didn’t do. The bail system is unjust and a major driver of mass incarceration.
- What we’re doing: Together with the national ACLU, in 2019 we sued to challenge the commercial, profit-driven bail-bond industry. Together with organizations from across the ideological spectrum, we’re advocating to end cash bail in Montana.
End fines and fees:
Nobody should be incarcerated because they cannot afford to pay court-ordered fines or fees. Failure to pay can result in more fines leading to a cycle of debt or incarceration.
- What we’re doing: We’re advocating for change in municipal and justice courts and on the state level. In 2019, we worked with Rep. Casey Knudsen (R-Malta) to successfully pass a bill that ends driver’s license suspensions for failure to pay court debt.