Law and Justice Interim Committee

Law and Justice Interim Committee Plays Catchup and Plans Travel

Committee: Law and Justice Interim Committee
Author: Rachel Weiss
Posted on February 16, 2018

Image of stick figure infront of presentation screen

After a special session forced the cancellation of a November 2017 meeting, the LJIC members used January’s meeting to catch up with interim study and agency oversight duties. The agency updates were spread throughout the Jan. 29-30 meeting and included presentations from members of the Board of Pardons and Parole, staff of the Office of the State Public Defender, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Justice. The court administrator also spoke about workload data for the district courts and several projects underway in the Judicial Branch.

In addition to these general updates, staff of the state’s Domestic Violence Fatality Review Commissions discussed the two commissions’ in-depth reviews of deaths resulting from domestic violence incidents. The first commission examines all domestic violence fatalities reported in the state, while the second focuses on homicides that involve a Native American perpetrator or victim, regardless of where in the state the event occurred.

In the following presentation, a cross section of individuals charged with ensuring access to the state’s court systems relayed the results of their recent work, which included hosting a series of listening forums across the state in 2015 and 2016. After showing a video of highlights from those forums, the members of the Montana Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission shared their experiences providing services to Montanans who could not afford an attorney in various noncriminal legal matters or who wanted to represent themselves in a case.

The LJIC also tackled the two interim studies it was assigned, including hearing a presentation by staff from the Montana Department of Justice on the Attorney General’s AID Montana initiative. At the start of the interim, the LJIC chose to receive periodic updates from the DOJ staff as part of its work on the HJ 6 study. Several LJIC members and staff also attended a Nov. 2017 summit about substance use disorders in Montana and ways local and state stakeholders are working to address the issue.

For the SJ 25 study of solitary confinement, a supervisor in the Locked Housing Units at Montana State Prison and the Department of Corrections’ chief legal counsel spoke to the LJIC members on the policies and procedures that govern the operation of those units. The head of the department’s Youth Services Division then reviewed how the department licenses county-operated youth detention facilities and how the department operates several youth correctional facilities.

In addition to the state perspective, the LJIC learned about county adult detention centers when a panel consisting of a county sheriff, an undersheriff, a detention center supervisor, and a representative of the county organization that provides risk -sharing services to county governments discussed the development and use of statewide jail standards in county adult detention centers. Finally, the LJIC took public comment on these topics from other stakeholders and members of the public.

Three panels of speakers spoke about several member-suggested topics and answered the committee members’ questions to cap off the busy two-day meeting. One panel of sheriffs discussed their perspectives and challenges, including jail populations and staffing pressures. A second panel of prerelease and community corrections providers gave their perspectives on trends, challenges, and ideas for the future. Finally, two University of Montana law school professors who codirect the school’s Indian Law Clinic highlighted the legal underpinnings to understanding criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country.

The committee also decided to meet in Billings for its March 19-20 meeting, with the focus of that trip being tours of local criminal justice facilities.