Native Americans, some urban neighborhoods have a higher percentage of state prison

Darrell Ehrlick

(Daily Montanan) A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative and Western Native Voice examines where inmates in Montana’s state prison system come from and examines local incarceration rates – data that has not been systematically collected and compiled.

The report shows that certain neighborhoods and areas of Montana’s largest cities contribute disproportionately to the state’s incarceration rates, while some smaller cities and communities have a higher per capita incarceration rate than larger cities.

The study, “Where Incarcerated People Come From: The Geography of Mass Incarceration in Montana,” was released in October and includes datasets that geographically break down inmates in Montana’s prison system. The report empowers decision-makers to use the data to help understand the communities they serve as well as to talk about solutions.

Currently, the report says Montana has an imprisonment rate of 123 per 100,000 people. And the study also found that the prisoners come from all over the state. While larger cities tend to be more heavily represented, when adjusted for population, it’s not just the larger cities that stand out.

For example, three cities – Billings, Great Falls and Missoula – have imprisonment rates above the state average. But, of cities with at least 1,000 residents, East Helena, Deer Lodge, Butte and Helena have the highest jail rates in the state.

The study delved even further, looking at areas of major cities in Montana to show that some neighborhoods had much higher rates of imprisonment than others in the same location.

Billings

Billings has an imprisonment rate of 213 per 100,000 residents, but the study found that two of the city’s 12 neighborhoods were responsible for 38% of prisoners.

“The South Side is home to 3% of the city’s residents, but 20% of the prison population. Similarly, the East Central neighborhood is home to 13% of the city’s residents but 18% of the city’s prison population,” the report said.

This translates into incarceration rates more than 15 times higher than the average. For the south side of Billings, that’s nearly 100 times the state average.

“(The rates are) not surprising, given what we know about the impact of race and poverty on a person’s likelihood of having interactions with the criminal justice system,” the report said. “Additionally, we know that these two neighborhoods are among the poorest in the city and that poor individuals, families and communities are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system: 14% of the South Side neighborhood and 24% of the North Side neighborhood. neighborhood live in poverty, compared to less than 10% of all Billings residents living in poverty.

The City of Billings did not respond to comments on this story.

Missoula

The report also identified three Missoula neighborhoods that had higher than average incarceration rates. The Northside neighborhood had an imprisonment rate of 393 per 100,000, while the Westside neighborhood had 666 and the “Franklin to the Fort” area had 191.

Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White told the Daily Montanan that responding to calls depends on where the calls for service are coming from. Additionally, he said that often keeping the entire city safe involves responding to single, low-key incidents in one part of the city or another. Some areas, like all cities, he said, need more policing.

“We don’t look at individuals, but we look at where the crime is happening in a city. It’s not driven by demographics, it’s driven by data,” White said.

He said that in many of those same neighborhoods that have higher incarceration rates, it’s the community members in those places who are asking for a greater police presence.

“Some of these stats are driven by the community asking us to do more there,” White said.

And, he said crime prevention units focus on areas where there is more criminal activity, so an increase in arrests may be the result of more public safety resources being deployed.

He also said what the report may not capture is the recent trend towards more robust community policing. For example, a more comprehensive approach may include assistance from the city’s zoning department which can help improve areas where run-down properties may be a nuisance or attract crime. The department also has mobile support teams where social workers instead of the police respond.

“It’s not just an app piece,” White said. “We try to approach it holistically.”

He said many communities in Montana are also dealing with rising aggressive violent crime. For example, in 2019 the city of Missoula recorded 221 aggravated assaults. By 2021, that number had doubled.

“We are not in a bubble. It’s a national trend,” he said.

The study suggested it’s not just a matter of how many people each city or neighborhood sends to jail through its criminal justice system. Instead, there is a greater impact on the community:

“Decades of research show that imprisonment has cascading collateral consequences, both for individuals and their loved ones. When large numbers of people disappear from a community, their absences are felt in countless ways. They leave behind loved ones, including children, who experience trauma, emotional distress and financial hardship. Simultaneously, the large number of people returning to these communities (since the vast majority of incarcerated people return home) face a host of reintegration challenges and collateral consequences of incarceration, including difficulty finding employment and lack of housing.

“It’s a sad reality that part of the whole criminal justice system has more representation from certain groups, not because we’re targeting but because we’re focusing on criminal activity,” White said. .

However, those statistics don’t account for mobile crisis units in places like Missoula and Billings — where those in distress see a social worker, not someone with a badge, White said.

“It’s a great model because the team can help and we can be brought in to meet another policing need,” he said.

Native Americans in jail

The report also demonstrated that Native American residents are not only incarcerated at higher rates, but that these neighborhoods contribute more to the state’s prison population.

The Aboriginal population of Billings is less than 5%, but the South Side neighborhood is at 15% and the North Side at 11%.

“Research has shown that policing tends to be concentrated in communities made up primarily of people of color, resulting in people living in these communities experiencing disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration,” the report said. ‘study.

These trends reflect a statewide trend of disproportionate representation by American Indians.

“American Indians are disproportionately incarcerated in Montana’s prisons: in 2020, Native Americans made up 23% of the state’s prison population, but less than 7% of the state’s population,” the report said. report.

In Billings, for example, Native Americans make up 27% of arrests, but Native Americans make up less than 5% of the city’s population. A similar, but less dramatic statistic exists in Missoula where Natives make up less than 2% of the population but make up 14% of arrests.

Overall, the study suggests that cities like Billings and Missoula are focusing more resources on other social programs, and not just expecting police to keep arresting people, only to send them in prison.

“Our results suggest that these resources would be better used to reduce poverty and improve local health, education and job opportunities,” the study concludes.

Nohemi M. Moore