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Diverse Group Announce Formation of Montana Coalition for Public Safety

Sep 9, 2020 by AFP

Americans for Prosperity-Montana, ACLU of Montana, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, others unite to build a just, fair, and accurate justice system

HELENA, Montana – A diverse group of public interest and grassroots organizations announced Wednesday the formation of the Montana Coalition for Public Safety. The group’s goal is to work with lawmakers, political leaders, and community leaders, to build a just, fair, and accurate justice system that makes Montana safer for everyone.

The coalition’s members include Americans for Prosperity-Montana, ACLU of Montana, the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Innocence Project, Western Native Voice, Frontier Institute, Montana Budget & Policy Center, the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, the Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Women Vote, and Disability Rights Montana.

Americans for Prosperity-Montana State Director David Herbst had this to say about the announcement:

“This coalition demonstrates that although we may have our differences, there is common ground to be found to address the toughest issues facing Montana. Our criminal justice system should keep our communities safe while recognizing the ability in every person to improve their life. We’re proud to join this diverse group to secure reforms that move Montana’s justice system closer to that ideal.”

ACLU of Montana Advocacy and Policy Director SK Rossi shared the following statement:

“Public safety is about investing in people. Poverty, mental illness, and substance use disorders are not crimes, and our society must move away from treating them as such. Too many people, disproportionately Indigenous people, are trapped in Montana’s criminal legal system, at a large expense to taxpayers. We need change. With more accountability and transparency, the state has numerous opportunities to make investment in the lives of Montanans, which will in turn create vibrant and safe communities. Through this coalition of diverse groups, we are challenging Montana to do better.”

Montana Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Director, Bridger Mahlum released the following statement: 

“Workforce development is a top priority for Montana businesses. And as a member of the Montana Coalition for Public Safety, we are excited to work with this diverse group of stakeholders to address employment issues for those who are impacted by the criminal justice system.”

The Montana Coalition for Public Safety announced a set of principles that will guide the organization as it works to make Montana’s justice system more just:

  • Focus on Public Safety
  • Protect Taxpayers
  • Eliminate Racial and Geographical Disparities
  • Require Transparency and Accountability
  • Prioritize Accuracy to Ensure Innocent People Are Not Incarcerated
  • End the Criminalization of Poverty

The coalition will work to move Montana forward in a number of areas, including expanding mental health and substance use disorder treatment, rethinking pre-trial detention and decreasing the use of money bail, ensuring uniform data gathering and transparency, and reforming the re-entry system for people returning to work and their communities after being incarcerated.

Learn more about the Montana Coalition for Public Safety

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Additional quote from coalition members:

“The current criminal justice system does not work for people with disabilities. Too often people with mental health disabilities and substance use disorders do not receive the treatment they need and become involved in the criminal justice system. This needs to end. It is not fair and it is a terrible way to spend the state’s resources. We are excited to work on important reforms to ensure safety, fairness and justice.” Beth Brenneman, Attorney, Disability Rights Montana

“Especially in the current economic environment, our leaders should be focused on helping more Montanans find work. The Frontier Institute is proud to join the Coalition for Public Safety and offer solutions to help move those with criminal convictions who’ve earned it back into Montana’s workforce,” Kendall Cotton, President, Frontier Institute.

“The Montana Innocence Project is excited to join efforts with a diverse group of stakeholders seeking real transformation. Montana must build a justice system that recognizes that incarcerating even one innocent person is one too many. The Coalition’s principles are the foundation of true justice.” Amy Sings in The Timber, Executive Director, Montana Innocence Project

“We have long believed that low-income individuals and families have disproportionately suffered in a system that criminalizes poverty and traps people in cycles of debt and incarceration.  This coalition comes not a moment too soon, and we are excited to join with organizations that believe there are better ways to ensure communities can be safe, strong, and healthy.” SJ Howell, Executive Director, Montana Women Vote

“Public safety must mean more than incarceration. Montana should reprioritize our state budget dollars to create equitable access to health care, housing, and mental health services. When we invest public dollars to support and care for individuals, families, and communities, our whole state will see the long-term benefits.” Tara Jensen, Co-Director, Public Affairs, Montana Budget & Policy Center