The collection and use of data in the criminal justice system and a demonstration by one of the Montana Highway Patrol's drug dogs took center stage during the Law and Justice Interim Committee's January meeting.

With committee members looking on, Tika, a four-legged member of the state's criminal interdiction team, swept the room for drugs to demonstrate how trained dogs help officers locate contraband in the field. Her two-legged fellow officers explained the history of the teams in Montana, including the funding provided for the teams by the 2017 and 2019 Legislatures.

How best to collect, use, and display data was a theme threaded throughout the two-day meeting. First, Department of Corrections staff reviewed detailed data points they are collecting and analyzing to determine the effects of recent changes made to the criminal justice system by Justice Reinvestment. Montana Board of Crime Control staff presented regional data on the allocation of federal grant funding for victims and victim services. In addition, legislative fiscal analysts reviewed current budget expenditure data for the criminal justice system agencies and demonstrated a new, interactive data tool that can help legislators and the public understand population and budget numbers for the corrections system.  Finally, the committee members learned from a national expert with the University of Cincinnati's Corrections Institute about effective methods to reduce recidivism and how to evaluate the effectiveness of programs used by the state to address criminal behavior and reduce crime.

The committee heard updates on efforts to prevent and investigate human trafficking and continued its study of the state's sexual and violent offender registries. The SJ 19 study of the registries included a legal review of federal and state constitutional provisions governing the use of the registries. Also, the committee heard from a professional who performs risk evaluations on sex offenders about how those evaluations are conducted. Then a district court judge, a defense attorney, and a prosecutor discussed how they use those evaluations in the sentencing process and when assigning a tier designation for the state's sex offender registry.

The LJIC began to consider next steps in its studies by requesting give provisional draft bills for its consideration and public comment at future meetings. Four of the draft bills relate to the SJ 19 study of the sexual and violent offender registry. Those ideas for drafts include:

  • Eliminating the violent offender registry;
  • Revising the public nature of the sex offender registry;
  • Allowing tier one sex offenders to be removed from the registry earlier; and
  • Reestablishing a law that membership in a sex offender treatment association is an acceptable qualification for individuals who performs risk evaluations on sex offenders.

The final provisional draft is for the HJ 36 study of compensation for wrongfully convicted individuals. That draft will be based on a recent Nevada law.

None of the drafts have been formally requested for consideration by the 2021 Legislature. Instead, these will be preliminary drafts on which the LJIC can take public comment on the ideas and make revisions.

The LJIC meets next on March 30-31 in Missoula. More details about that meeting, including the agenda, will be available in mid-March on the LJIC's website.

Committee Website:

Committee Staff: Rachel Weiss, 406-444-5367,

The Legislative News.