Missoula County, MT

Change in Jail Population 10%

Action Areas Data Analysis Interagency Collaboration Pretrial Services Racial Disparities

Last Updated


In Missoula County, people being held pretrial and people with behavioral health needs in the jail have been key drivers of the jail population. In addition, a significant portion of the jail population are individuals who failed to appear for court, violated probation, or had their bond revoked.

In 2017, the jail pretrial population alone was 34.4%. During the same year, 64% of all low and low moderate-risk defendants remained detained beyond three days, spending an average of 12.6 days in jail.

Because of insufficient support and services, people who have untreated mental health and substance use issues too often cycle in and out of jail instead of getting the treatment they need.

In addition, people of color, particularly Native Americans, have been disproportionately arrested and incarcerated.

Finally, siloed criminal justice data systems have made it difficult to use data to identify systems-level issues and drive decision-making. Limited coordination between the criminal justice system and social services has also created significant frustration and barriers for those who need help from both.


Since joining the Safety and Justice Challenge, Missoula County has advanced a number of strategies to rethink and redesign its criminal justice system so that it is more fair, just, and equitable for all.



The county created and implemented a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a formal committee made up of key criminal justice system stakeholders who are either elected or senior-level policymakers. These stakeholders meet regularly to discuss criminal justice reforms.



The county enhanced data collection and analysis across the criminal justice system. This included funding a data analyst specialist to create data reports and data dashboards and evaluating criminal justice policy and program initiatives underway in the county.



The county is working to reduce lengths of stay for people of color by funding a peer support specialist to assist Indigenous defendants in navigating the criminal justice system and to reduce failures to appear for court and probation violations. Jail data is also monitored to identify areas for improvement and needed resources.



To reduce short-term jail admissions and average length of stay for people charged with non-violent crimes, the county implemented case processing efficiencies in the Justice and District Court to reduce time for people from their initial appearance in court to arraignment. In addition, the county adopted an objective pretrial risk assessment tool to assist release decisions to resolve criminal cases quickly and fairly.



The county worked to offer more timely chemical dependency evaluations through the Office of the Public Defender to reduce time in custody and increase referrals to diversion opportunities.



Using the findings of the sequential mapping exercise, the county piloted a mobile crisis team to respond to non-emergency calls for service that involved homelessness, behavioral health issues, and societal welfare concerns. The mobile crisis team includes an EMT and a mental health professional who work with local service providers to provide care that redirects individuals in crisis away from the justice system.


As a result of the strategies above, Missoula County has made progress towards its goal of rethinking and redesigning its criminal justice system.

Quartery ADP for Missoula County (2018-2024)

9.9% from baseline

More Results

As a result of effective pretrial strategies, misdemeanor-level average daily jail population has been reduced by over 50% while misdemeanor-level admissions have been reduced by over 60%.

The county has increased supportive services and material supports to justice involved individuals. For example, justice-involved individuals represented by the Office of the Public Defender and requiring a chemical dependency evaluation typically receive one within 10-12 days, with a shorter timeframe for in-custody defendants.

As a result of increased efficiencies in case processing, on average, time from initial appearance in Missoula County Justice Court to arraignment in Missoula County District Court has been reduced by one week.

There is productive collaboration among key stakeholders, including judges, law enforcement, public defenders, community members, and many others, who support the county’s efforts to make the local justice system fairer and more equitable. Key stakeholders are routinely seeking data to inform their understanding of the local justice system, and data is playing an increasingly prominent role in decision-making.

The county has also created deep relationships with individuals, community groups, and elected officials who are engaged in conversations and decision-making related to the local justice system. The creation of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council has also resulted in a significant increase in the participation of community partners in tackling justice system problems.

In the wake of the national protests and reckoning for the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota, Missoula community members are increasingly engaged in understanding racial and ethnic disparities present in the judicial system. Their activism led to the Missoula City Council and Missoula County Commissioners to provide critical funding to the development of a Mobile Crisis Unit—a non-law enforcement responder team for people dealing with mental health and substance use related crisis situations.

Remaining Challenges

Missoula County is focused on addressing its remaining challenges in its local justice system.

COVID-19 has highlighted the significant need for supportive services and effective community supervision resources in Missoula County, as it dramatically changed the composition of the jail population and underscored the overrepresentation of Native Americans in the jail. As a result, the county’s strategies have been updated to respond to both long-standing and newly identified challenges.

To address the long-standing and new challenges, Missoula County is moving forward with a number of strategies. These include creating a community-supported release program; expanding the use of court hearing reminders; funding a dually-licensed social worker to conduct chemical dependency and mental health evaluations for Probation and Parole; improving trust in and reliability of the Public Safety Assessment; ensuring conditions of release imposed correspond to the appropriate risk level; improving the pretrial supervision drug testing policy to support success of supervised individuals; funding a Native American Peer Support Specialist within the Office of the Public Defender; creating a dashboard focusing on identifying specific racial and ethnic disparities at key decision points in the justice system; and reviewing and ensuring that criminal justice policies are equitable from paper to practice.

Lead Agency

Missoula County Community Justice Department

Contact Information

Chelsea Wittmann


Missoula County Board of County Commissioners, City of Missoula, Office of the Mayor, Missoula City Council, Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County Justice Court, City of Missoula Municipal Court, Missoula County Sheriff's Office, City of Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Attorney's Office, City of Missoula Attorney's Office, Office of the State Public Defender - Missoula Office, Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole – Missoula Office, Missoula Correctional Services

Blog Posts