Law and Justice committee will examine prison contracts, criminal justice system data

By: - June 29, 2021 6:16 pm

The stairs of the capitol in Helena, Montana (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan).

People who are incarcerated in Montana prisons pay on average $9.24 to make a 15-minute out-of-state call to their families, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

“We know that keeping in touch with families is a key factor in reducing recidivism,” said Andrea Fenster, a staff attorney for the nonprofit that studies mass incarceration. “But these high costs make it almost impossible for low-income families to stay in touch and force people into debt just so fathers and mothers can do things like homework with their children.”

During their first meeting on Monday, members of the Law and Justice Interim Committee decided to prioritize studying telecommunications contracts with prisons and criminal justice system data in advance of the 2023 legislative session. The committee will round out its time looking into mental illness in the criminal justice system and the judicial standards commission as well as the implementation of a handful of bills.

Henry Kriegel of Americans for Prosperity Montana helped craft the study of criminal justice system data in Montana. He spoke in favor of it Monday.

“We think that this is a critical study bill … because data drives reform,” he said. “We don’t have a uniform collection data system for criminal justice in the state of Montana. We need to have that from top to bottom because if you don’t have objective data, you’re not able to make evidence-based decisions.”

S.K. Rossi, who spoke on behalf of the Montana Innocence Project, backed Kriegel’s point saying, “the Innocence Project is very interested in getting some sort of cohesive data gathering program going in Montana … we are requesting that the maximum amount of time be spent [on the study].”

The committee was assigned six of the 28 studies requested by legislators last session. But given time constraints, the committee decided not to study women’s prisons and will ask the Interim Budget Committee to look into victim services funding in Montana.

The committee will meet again in September to finalize its plans.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .