Cynthia Wolken (D) is the Montana State Senator for Senate District 48. She is sponsoring a package of bills this session aimed at criminal justice reform.
A package of Justice Reinvestment bills are moving through the legislature with broad bi-partisan support. These bills came out of the Sentencing Commission, which was established in the last legislative session to come up with policy proposals for this legislature to consider. The idea is to get people the behavioral health or other help they need early on so they do not continue to cycle through the criminal justice system. It is also about reducing recidivism and making sure offenders are successful on community supervision. The three main pressures are rising jail populations, the growing impact of substance abuse, and the increased number of people who are revoked to prison for violating conditions of their release.
SB 65 provides funding for housing for felons so that they can safely re-enter communities and start rebuilding their lives. SB 62 provides for peer support licensing so that we can help people stay healthy in their communities and get the support they need with any behavioral health issue. SB 64 modernizes the board of pardons and parole, while HB 133 addresses disparities in the length of some of our criminal sentences. Other bills address pre-trial supervision services and probation reforms so we can preserve limited jail beds for people who need to be there for our safety. SB 67 strengthens batterer intervention programming to hold offenders accountable and reduce domestic violence, especially in rural communities.
Article II, Section 28 of the Montana Constitution states that “laws for the punishment of crime shall be founded on the principles of prevention, reformation, public safety, and restitution for victims.” It is an exciting time in Montana for criminal justice reforms that will hold offenders accountable, save money, and make our communities safer. Using data and what we know about effective corrections programming, we can make inroads in averting the prison population growth we will otherwise see. Montanans have spoken loud and clear – they do not want to be on the hook to build and operate more jails and prisons.
Together, these bills represent the most comprehensive change to our justice system in Montana in decades. Finally, there will be quality assurance mechanisms in place to ensure accountability and measure outcomes for Justice Reinvestment.