In many ways, county detention centers bear the brunt of a broken criminal justice system.

Many county detention centers in Montana have severe conditions issues and are underfunded, inadequately staffed, and largely ignored by county commissioners, county law enforcement departments, and the public.  An inadequately funded statewide public defender system, a broken bond system, a lack of pre-trial alternatives to incarceration, and a backlogged Montana Department of Corrections all mean that more prisoners are staying in county detention centers for longer periods of time. Counties’ unwillingness or inability to create and fund jail diversion programs puts the burden on county detention centers to house criminally charged individuals, many of who would be better monitored in less restrictive and less expensive settings. Many prisoners have drug or alcohol addiction issues, mental health issues, medical needs, or developmental disabilities. Counties expect detention centers to be a psychiatric hospital, emergency room, and drug rehabilitation clinic all in one, but do not provide the resources to address any of these issues. The result is an inefficient and ineffective system that is unable to provide the treatment and rehabilitation to stop people from repeatedly cycling through the criminal justice system.

 Addressing these issues in county detention centers and providing efficient and effective pre-trial alternatives to detention must become a high priority for counties across the state.

Locked in the Past: Montana’s Jails in Crisis, the ACLU of Montana’s comprehensive report of the conditions in Montana jails, reports out on our findings.

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