The ACLU of Montana announced today the publication of its investigative report, “Set up to Fail: Montana’s Probation and Parole System.”
The ACLU of Montana began researching the probation and parole system in Montana over concerns that the state’s supervision system actually increases recidivism and detention rates, feeding mass incarceration. Montana spends nearly $200 million annually to incarcerate people and is the only state in a 10-state region that has seen its incarceration rates dramatically increase.
“Montana’s probation and parole system, counter to its original intent, inhibits rehabilitation. High fees and costs, inflexible conditions, and unrealistic requirements actually prevent people from getting the help they need to re-enter their communities,” said SK Rossi, Advocacy and Policy Director. “Instead of serving its original purpose as a humane alternative to incarceration and a support system for people trying to avoid detention, probation and parole in Montana now fuels mass incarceration. We must build on the reforms the Montana Legislature passed in 2017 and prioritize further probation and parole reform as a means to end mass incarceration. This report provides legislators with the information necessary to do so.”
The report highlights the many impediments to success on supervision. These include inadequate housing and transportation, insufficient mental health and substance abuse programs, high fees and costs of supervision, inflexible conditions, and unrealistic requirements. These barriers simultaneously block people from rehabilitative resources and force them into supervision violations, creating a cycle of failure that traps people in the criminal justice system.
Probation and parole especially fail Indigenous people, who are already overrepresented in Montana’s criminal justice system and in probation or parole revocations in particular. Indigenous people represent 6.5% of Montana’s population and yet make up nearly 26% of the men returned to prison for a probation violation and almost 42% of the women returned to prison for a probation violation.
The report’s research shows that Montana’s supervision system refuses to recognize the challenges and disadvantages that Indigenous people uniquely experience. These barriers make it disproportionately harder for Indigenous people to access the resources or support to satisfy probation and parole conditions.
“We hope that this report will spur Montana to become a leader in probation and parole reforms,” said Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann. “Once someone has ‘done their time,’ they must be allowed to return to their community without undue burdens or unnecessary pressures.”
The report recommends that the State of Montana:
- Develop holistic defender services that can provide assistance and support to people on supervision to find housing, treatment, transportation, and required or otherwise appropriate programming;
- Provide community mental health and substance abuse treatment—particularly in rural areas— to ensure that people on supervision can be successful upon reentry and have continuity of care upon release from custody;
- Develop achievable goals that recognize the reality of dealing with poverty and environmental circum¬stances;
- Allow and encourage probation offices to reduce probation terms and to reduce in-person check-ins where appropriate;
- Recruit Indigenous staff in probation, parole, and other public service positions (including for treatment and diagnosis of mental health and substance abuse) to work with Indigenous people on supervision; and
- Accept and support traditional tribal programs and traditions as part of the rehabilitative process.
The ACLU of Montana’s SK Rossi (Advocacy and Policy Director), Caitlin Borgmann (Executive Director), Melissa Smylie (person with a personal experience with probation system) are available for interview.