The Struggle is Real – Changing the Conversation in Montana

When the Montana Department of Corrections issued its 2013 Biennial Report , the department’s own numbers finally substantiated exactly what the community has known all along: Montana is disproportionately locking away (9)

One out of every five men in prison in Montana is Native American – far above the rate that Natives are represented in the state’s general population. About 36 percent of all women incarcerated in Montana are Native.

Prisons are rooted in a long history of racism and oppression in this country.

The faces of this problem are not only Black and Latino, but also Native. It’s not exclusively an urban problem, restricted to the ghettos of Chicago and New York. Rural America is also locking up people of color in disproportionate numbers.

The war on poverty has shifted to a war on the poor.

The United States’ practice of imprisoning people for crimes of poverty is unconscionable. Solutions begin with addressing the root causes, and investing in efforts that create healthy communities and strong, united families.

Native Americans are far more likely to be in jail, less likely to have health care coverage, and often don’t have access to convenient voting places that most Americans take for granted.

Imprisoning disproportionate numbers of Native Americans leaves a gaping hole in the tribal community and in families; diluting the power that these communities could have.

Children are left without parents, and families fall deeper into poverty – assuring economic prosperity and social control for the wealthy, and record profits for private prison and probation investors.

Indian People’s Action is working with Tribal Leaders to change the conversation – to pressure lawmakers to invest in efforts that promote healthy communities and strong, united families – As well as challenging the private prison industry in the state of Montana.

Some of the steps lawmakers must take:

• Support and encourage job creation, job-training, and apprenticeships. Offer incentives for employers who pay wages a family can live on and offer health benefits.

A regular job will decrease the number of crimes committed out of economic desperation.

• Adopt federal funding for Medicaid expansion to provide health care to very low-income families, which could include mental health care and addiction treatment.

This one step would remove hundreds of people who need health care, not confinement, from the prison population.

• Locate polling places on tribal lands and reservations so people who don’t drive or have transportation can vote conveniently. Access to voting is critical for electing elect legislators and lawmakers to really represent them.

• Prohibit additional private prisons in Montana. Increase monitoring, accountability and transparency of the existing prison.

• Invest in community justice and alternative programs on reservations and in Native communities that keep people out of the justice system.

• Change laws, sentencing structures and find alternatives for crimes related to socio-economic status and health.

Indian People’s Action is raising these concerns and working with Tribal leaders and lawmakers to find real answers that will keep families united and communities strong.

The Alliance is supporting IPA’s efforts by assisting with strategy development and campaign materials. To learn more about their work, email