Courts in Montana are rolling out the new evidence-based ‘Public Safety Assessment’ tool, to determine the risk any particular defendant might pose if he or she were released from custody.

Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks said the concept came from former Missoula legislator Cynthia Wolken, who also crafted the recently enacted Jail Diversion Plan.

“In Senate Bill 59 the legislature appropriated some money to have the office of the Supreme Court administrator essentially set up a program to use the catch phrase ‘evidence-based’, to use a scoring tool to try to help give judges an idea about how much of a risk someone poses in terms of committing a new crime if released, or failing to appear for a court date,” said Marks. “What this is really aimed at is taking people that are lower risk without violent criminal charges and having them out either on supervised release or on pre-trial supervision rather than putting the resources into housing them in our jail and then turning around at putting them on probation.”

The levels are numbered from one to six, depending on the risk factors.

Marks said the prosecutor still has the option of requesting a higher level of risk assessment.

“The tool doesn’t differentiate between a simple assault like giving someone a black eye outside a bar from deliberate homicide,” he said. “Both are a violent offense, so in terms of scoring they would treated equally. We know they’re very different obviously, and we would come in with very different recommendations for those crimes.”

By virtue of her work in crafting the bill and for the Jail Diversion Plan, Wolken was appointed a Deputy Director of the Montana Department of Corrections in January.

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