Criminal justice reform is one of the most pressing issues facing Montana and the nation, and one of the few issues that resonates across the political spectrum. In the fall of 2016, the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana launched an innovative interdisciplinary study of justice and its role, or absence, in Montana’s criminal justice system. Drawing on the expertise of faculty representing seven disciplines from across campus, the Montana Justice Initiative’s broad academic approach will provide a thorough analysis of justice and the criminal justice system that begins on campus and reverberates across the state.
The Montana Justice Initiative is working towards establishing a presence on campus and enhancing the discussion of justice and criminal justice reform through panels, lectures, and symposiums. Some of the initial research focuses on the causes of the drastic overrepresentation of Native American women in Montana corrections, interpersonal perceptions of justice and human well-being, economic impacts of current criminal justice policies, and the role of race in the Montana criminal justice system. Ultimately, the initiative intends to publish a book to both memorialize the initiative, disseminate the research, and encourage citizens and lawmakers to better understand justice in Montana. At a time when legislatures and the Montana Sentencing Commission are calling for evidence-based practices, the Montana Justice Initiative is in a position to provide much-needed guidance. In addition to expansive and diverse research, the publication will incorporate best-practices suggestions and legal input that can shape criminal justice policy statewide.
Over the next three years, the Montana Justice Initiative will continue to recruit professors of diverse and experienced backgrounds from across the state to continue to enhance the discussion of justice. Although the initiative is currently working with professors from Sociology, Criminology, Psychology, Economics, Political Science, Communications, and History, it is only the beginning. The initiative will pursue state, federal, and foundation grants to ensure the researchers have the resources they need to effectively contribute to an invigorated discussion of justice and the criminal justice system. Private gifts and contributions will enable the Montana Justice Initiative to bring more of Montana’s brightest intellectuals to the table to provide guidance to the often uninformed and ineffective practices of the criminal justice system.