Missoula County lands state grant to help former inmates find housing, reintegrate

Missoula County and its state partners will hire two positions to develop a supportive housing program aimed at helping former inmates reintegrate into the community with lodging and other services.

Commissioners this week approved a professional services agreement with the District XI Human Resource Council to develop the pilot program using a 15-month grant awarded by the Montana Board of Crime Control.

“It’s a little more than $153,000,” said county grants administrator Erin Kautz. “We’re partnering with the Human Resource Council to provide these positions that would be part of a supportive housing program for citizens returning to our community from jail and incarceration.”

The challenge of helping former inmates reintegrate into local communities has been a challenge across the state, and it’s been a burning topic in Missoula for more than a year.

Last fall, Montana Probation and Parole, joined by Partners for Reintegration and other organizations from across Missoula, hosted a workshop that saw participants attempt to navigate the challenges faced by former inmates face when released from prison.

The new program, launched on a pilot basis, looks to ease that transition and reduce the rate of recidivism. It costs the state more than $33,000 a year to house an inmate versus $1,600 to supervise them on probation.

“This new program will divert returning residents from homelessness and increase their ability to be successful in the community,” said Commissioner Cola Rowley. “At the same time, it should reduce recidivism rates of participants, saving taxpayers money and increasing public safety.”

Kautz said the 15-month program will work closely with Department of Corrections to help returning citizens find housing and other essential services.

A similar program implemented in Pennsylvania resulted in a 22-percent reduction in the recidivism rate for program participants – well below the county’s recidivism rate of 53 percent and the statewide rate 60 percent.

Kautz said the program is hiring two positions, including a re-entry case manager and a housing stability coordinator.

“Missoula County struggles with addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness and helping individuals returning to the community after incarceration,” Kautz said. “But with the state’s second-highest population of homeless individuals, the second-highest number of individuals under DOC supervision, and an extremely low rental vacancy rate, Missoula faces an uphill battle to assist these vulnerable populations.”

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