Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Missoula County will be receiving a two-year, $410,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to assist in safely reducing the Missoula County Jail population, in addition to addressing justice system inequities and working together with members of the Missoula community.

KGVO News spoke with Chelsea Wittmann, coordinator of the Safety and Justice Challenge who described the continuing funding.

County to Get $410,000 to Help Reduce the Jail Population

“This round of grant funding actually marked a slight reduction in the amount of money that the county was awarded,” began Wittmann. “The reason why is that it is meant to be a sustainability phase of our grant. We were awarded this funding on the basis of our local success with the work that we have done, and we are looking for ways to continue that work and to grow some of our initiatives into being a permanent part of the Missoula County criminal legal system.”

Wittmann said the grant has enabled the county to get a complete picture of the jail population.

The Study Looks at Who Ends Up in Jail and Why

“Missoula County has used this grant opportunity to examine its jail population; who ends up in jail and how long that person stays in jail and what the processes are around the pretrial space,” she said. “So, before the time that a person stands trial, we use that opportunity to examine our justice system issues and to address any barriers or snags that we find in that process.”

Wittman said the MacArthur Foundation has specially recognized Missoula County for the way it has customized the program to fit the Missoula County Jail population.

“The MacArthur Foundation has pointed to our success,” she said. “There are 11 sites that have reached sort of this echelon, and the reason that Missoula has stood out to the MacArthur Foundation is that we've developed programs that are promoting community health and public safety for folks who are involved in the criminal justice system, and being unique to Missoula, we have taken the values of the Safety and Justice challenge and made those our own in ways that fit our system here in Montana.”

The Program Aims to Help People Stay out of Trouble and Out of Jail

The overall idea for using the grant funding is to serve those within the criminal justice system and enable them to stay out of trouble and out of jail in the future.

“For Missoula, we are very driven by our data about who is in jail who is awaiting trial, and what services are offered to folks,” she said. “We've been able to take that information and address disparities that have arisen. We are doing our best to build up a holistic model that will demonstrate the ease of access to services for folks who need it, and with the intent that those stabilizing services will keep folks out of the criminal justice system in the future.”

The Safety and Justice Challenge is meant to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses its jails.

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