Law and Justice Interim Committee

Understanding the Agencies

Committee: Law and Justice Interim Committee
Author: Rachel Weiss
Posted on October 2, 2017

Image of mountainscape in Glacier National Park

Agency introductions and oversight topics dominated the recent Law and Justice Interim Committee (LJIC) meeting. LJIC members met agency directors and staff for several executive Branch agencies and also for the Judicial Branch. Two agencies – the Office of the State Public Defender and the Board of Pardons and Parole – had undergone major reorganizations in the months between the LJIC’s initial June meeting and the September meeting. Also during those summer months, the Department of Corrections  gained a new director, the Judicial Branch launched a pilot project to use a pretrial risk assessment tool to determine what jail inmates might safely be released before trial, and the state’s budget situation changed with revenue collections falling short of the projected levels. All in all, the LJIC members had plenty to consider in September.

In addition to the agency oversight work, the committee began its study of solitary confinement in Montana. After legislative staff reviewed two background papers containing definitions, existing data, and best practices related to the topic, Eldon Vail, a former corrections department director in Washington State, joined the members by videoconference. Mr. Vail spoke generally about solitary confinement and research about its effects on inmates. He also discussed his state’s efforts to reduce the use of segregated housing in prisons and gave the LJIC suggestions for its study. At future meetings, the LJIC will learn more about housing practices in and standards for juvenile facilities and local detention centers, in addition to a review of changes other states have made or considered to reduce the use of solitary confinement.

New Topics: Budget Cuts, Prison Rape, Indian Country Criminal Justice, and Victims’ Rights

At the end of the day, the LJIC adopted study plans for the HJ 6 and SJ 25 studies and also a work plan that focuses the committee’s meeting and legislative staff time on the its priorities for the interim. The committee members selected several topics they wanted to cover during future meetings, including:

  • the Department of Corrections’ efforts to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA;
  • the effects of possible budget cuts on agency operations and programs;
  • the State-Tribal Relations Committee’s study of increasing access to tribal resources for tribal members who are involved in the criminal justice system;
  • information about treaty obligations of the United States to provide law enforcement in Indian Country and the recent legislation in Montana to allow the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to withdraw consent to be subject to the criminal jurisdiction of the state; and
  • an update on Marsy’s Law and recent legislation and litigation related to the recently enacted constitutional amendment.

The committee also adopted tentative future meeting dates, which are listed on the committee’s website.

Next Meeting

The LJIC will meet again in Helena on November 15-16. A meeting agenda and other materials will be available in early November. For more information about the LJIC or the meeting, visit the committee’s website or contact the committee’s staff.