A recent study brought forth a familiar litany from the Montana Department of Corrections, “We’re out of bed space. The county jails are full. We need more money!” Wake up and smell the coffee, taxpayers, because to paraphrase a line from “Field of Dreams,” ‘If you build it, they’ll fill it.’
An official once said the increase in prisoner population was due to successful drug interdictions associated with meth usage. Yes, there are more people in prison for drug offenses, but most of these are serving relatively short sentences.
Our prisons are full because intake exceeds outflow. The bottleneck in the system seems to be the Board of Pardons and Parole. No matter how statistics are manipulated, research shows there are approximately 600 inmates who, as their duly elected sentencing judges planned, are eligible for parole right now.
Yet, they can’t obtain parole because this quasi-judicial body substitutes its judgment for that which came from the ‘bench’ and denies release to many who could otherwise be safely supervised while working, supporting families, and saving the state $21 million per year.
Added benefits include the creation of 20 community supervisor positions such as parole officer and pre-release center personnel.
There’s no “actual” prison overcrowding problem; merely parole officials who believe their judgment supersedes elected officials. Should the governor simply suspend the Parole Board, adopt the merit-based “grid” system for parole release (used so successfully in other states); Montana taxpayers would be relieved of the white elephant the DOC has become.
~ John Wirtala, Deer Lodge