Editor's note: Helena Municipal Judge candidate Jack Morris provided the following information in response to Wednesday's candidate forum hosted by YWCA Helena. Morris said he did attend the forum because he did not receive the invitation emailed to him.
Community Service and Alternative Sentencing Programs:
I advocate strongly for the use of community service and other alternative sentencing programs for misdemeanor offenders who pass through the municipal court system. Effective use of pre-trial services to monitor and supervise persons facing misdemeanor offenses makes better use of our tax dollars, avoids the warehousing of first time non-violent offenders, and promotes the long term community welfare by helping these people gain access to mental health and treatment services that will assist their transition to contributing members of the community. I would reserve pre-trial incarceration and custodial sentences for repeat and violent offenders who pose the greatest threat to the safety and welfare of the Helena community. I would fashion creative sentences where possible that incorporate community service for organizations that better the City of Helena.
I will work with the State Bar of Montana and the Lewis and Clark County Bar Association to develop forms for use by pro-se litigants with urgent need of access to the court, including victims of domestic violence and parties involved in custody disputes that could spiral out of control. I also will use these organizations to leverage local lawyers to provide free and pro bono services through innovative programs such as limited representation agreements that allow a lawyer to represent a pro-se litigant on a single urgent matter without having to commit to covering the entire dispute.
Victims of Domestic or Sexual Violence:
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Municipal courts face unique challenges as victims of partner or family member assault often first arise as misdemeanor charges. A failure to address the root causes of this violence and provide safe spaces for the victims too often turns into tragedy when the perpetrator escalates the violence with each incident if the justice system fails to act quickly. I will use pre-trial custody, restraining orders, social services, such as shelters to provide immediate protection to victims. Longer term solutions to the violence would involve incarceration for the most dangerous offenders and access to social service programs to allow victims to gain skills and confidence needed to remove themselves completely from these abusive relationships.
Overburden on Correction System:
Too often the easy road involves a period of incarceration for misdemeanor offenders. Courts must distinguish between those violent offenders who warrant incarceration and those persons better served by home confinement, electronic monitoring, and community service. Home confinement and the use of electronic monitoring allow the courts to ensure the safety of the community by tracking the whereabouts of non-violent offenders while allowing these people to maintain their jobs, pay their taxes, and contribute to their communities. Flash incarceration that includes immediate and swift short-term punishment for minor pre-trial and probation violations must be considered to get the attention of offenders before they slide into more serious problems and provide flexibility for courts and corrections officials to have bed space when needed. The limited beds in the Lewis and Clark Detention Center must be available for those offenders who pose threats to the safety and security of the citizens of Helena.
Efficacy of Treatment Courts:
Treatment courts offer a useful tool as an alternative to incarceration. The use of mentors, wrap-around social services, and regular reporting, monitoring, and drug testing combine to provide drug addicts and alcoholics with the needed services to beat their addictions and remain in their jobs to support their families. The ability to scale these effective programs to treat more offenders remains the challenge for the court system.