Missoula County Awarded $700,000 Grant to Address Over-Incarceration

The Missoula County Community Justice Department recently received a second two-year $700,000 grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to support strategies to safely reduce the county detention facility population and address racial and ethnic disparities in Missoula’s justice system.  

The funds will help expand current initiatives launched in 2018, when Missoula County was first awarded a Safety and Justice Challenge grant. It will help the county work toward its goals of reducing rates of defendants failing to appear at required court procedures, minimizing probation and pretrial violations, shortening pretrial length of stay in jail for defendants who have not been convicted of a crime, and evaluating and reducing racial and ethnic disparities within the legal justice system. 

“This grant allows Missoula County the ability to make headway in many areas including criminal justice reform, equity, public safety and the efficient use of public funds,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “Local governments compete for these McArthur Foundation funds, and our staff’s success with the first award laid the groundwork to receive this second round of funding to help continue the good work they’ve implemented.” 

The Community Justice Department determined six grant-funded employees are needed to meet the intended goals of the program. A Safety and Justice Challenge coordinator will lead the program objectives and facilitate an implementation team with community stakeholders and agencies. Two staff members will provide pretrial defendants with support, information, referrals and resources, and a dually licensed social worker will conduct chemical dependency evaluations for probation and parole and help increase access to needed services for those with a substance use disorder.  

The Missoula County Detention Facility also will gain a re-entry coordinator to provide support to individuals leaving the facility for successful, independent re-entry into the community, and the state Office of Public Defender will welcome a Native American peer support specialist to create meaningful connection and support for Indigenous defendants.  

In addition to hiring staff, the county plans to expand on the current jail population dashboard by gathering additional data to help identify and analyze racial and ethnic disparities in the legal justice system from the initial point of contact to adjudication. This dashboard and the current public safety assessment tool will help measure the success of the program and capture justice system inequalities that need to be addressed. 

Stakeholder and community input gathered through surveys, focus groups and meetings will help align the continued funding with community priorities. The grant runs from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2023. 

The Safety and Justice Challenge is a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The MacArthur Foundation grant funding for the project brings together many of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations to provide technical assistance and counsel to participating cities and counties.