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Coalition Aims for Criminal-Justice Reform in MT Legislative Session

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About 17,000 Montanans are behind bars or under criminal-justice supervision, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. (Proxima Studio/Adobe Stock)
About 17,000 Montanans are behind bars or under criminal-justice supervision, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. (Proxima Studio/Adobe Stock)
November 30, 2020

HELENA, Mont. -- Groups from across the political spectrum are coming together to push for criminal-justice reform during the Montana legislative session.

The Montana Coalition for Public Safety formed after President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, enacting reforms on the federal level.

David Herbst, state director of the conservative, free-market group Americans for Prosperity-Montana, says his group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana connected to pursue reform on the state level.

"I think people misunderstand, often, the moment that we're in," Herbst noted. "Everyone looks at the increasing partisanship, but assumes that means increasing division between ideas, and that's just simply not true."

The coalition also includes Disability Rights Montana, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, Montana Racial Equity Project and others.

About 17,000 Montanans are behind bars or under criminal-justice supervision, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Herbst added the coalition has a number of policy goals for the upcoming session, but one of the top priorities is collecting more data about the criminal-justice system.

"The justice system is like a very large beast that is not well understood often by even the people trying to advance policy in there," Herbst observed. "So we have a study bill that we'd like to do on data transparency."

The coalition also wants to shorten the time folks are beholden to the system. Herbst explained that includes pre-trial reforms so that more people can stay in their communities, as well as changes to the parole system.

"That's kind of shortening the circumstances in which people are on parole because one of the number one reasons why people recidivate and go back to prison is usually parole violation," Herbst concluded.

The session begins on January 4.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT