Today the House Judiciary Committee will discuss two bills to create jail suicide prevention programs -- one in Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) and the other within the Board of Crime Control.

HB 43 would create a program within DPHHS to assist detention centers with developing a program to triage incoming prisoners to determine their risk of suicide and to give them the appropriate treatment, utilizing community mental health centers and providing grant money to pay for up to 50 percent of the cost of that program.

The second bill, HB 69, is directed at the Board of Crime Control, and would require the Law Enforcement Academy to create and teach a course on preventing prisoner suicides, require that course be available to law enforcement agencies and be taught to all officers going through the Academy, add a $10 surcharge to criminal convictions to pay for the program, and require that county detention centers budget for and pay for the programs and treatment necessary to prevent jail suicides.

Jail suicide is an ongoing problem in our county detention centers. It was one of the main issues addressed by the Law and Justice Interim Committee between this session and last. According to the committee, in 2011 there were five suicides in Montana county jails, and in the first half of 2012 there were two. In November 2012 a jury in a civil trial found Fergus County negligent in the hanging suicide of a prisoner in its jail, and awarded the man's estate $80,000.

The Constitutions of both the United States and Montana require that prisoners be treated humanely and that their physical and mental health needs be treated when incarcerated. When we lock people up, we have a responsibility to make sure they are cared for. Suicide prevention is a basic component of that care.

Here is the full list of hearings we are following today at the Capitol:

House Judiciary Committee 8 a.m. Room 137

  • HB 43 Create Jail Suicide Prevention Program in DPHHS HB 69 Create Jail Suicide Prevention Program in Board of Crime Control
  • HB 92 Remove Public Defender from Certain Court Definitions
  • HB 93 Authorize Fixed-fee Contracts in Certain Cases

Budget Presentation by Legislative Fiscal Division 9 a.m. Room 303

Senate Judiciary Committee 9 a.m. Room 303

  • SB 37 Declaring Conceal Weapon Permit Application as Confidential Criminal Justice Information
  • SB 53 Revise Penalities for Certain Misdemeanor Offenses