Jail overcrowding

Missoula County has emerged as one of six governments that will receive funding from a University of Utah program looking to develop innovative ways to address a range of social issues, from homelessness to jail overcrowding.

The county applied for the competitive Pay for Success grant from the Policy Innovation Lab. It will receive $80,000 to study the feasibility of developing new ways to address overcrowding at the Missoula County Detention Facility.

“That funding will help pay for a project analyst to assist in looking at the feasibility of implementing the Pay for Success model,” said Ann Hughes, communications director for Missoula County. “It’ll look at whether that approach might be something that works in our community.”

Hughes said a search for a project analyst is underway. The grant funds the position through March 31, 2016. It also covers travel costs, consulting fees and other expenses.

The Policy Innovation Lab issued a call for proposals from governments across 10 Western states earlier this year.

The county entered the application process with high hopes, and brought together a diverse group of government officials and advocates to help make its application competitive.

Despite new social programs and jail diversion efforts, overcrowding remains an issue at the county’s 16-year-old detention center. Officials are looking to reduce jail crowding by decreasing or eliminating unnecessary incarceration.

Missoula County Commissioner Cola Rowley said the University of Utah-based lab will provide the county with technical support during the feasibility analysis.

The lab will also provide assistance in selecting appropriate service providers within the community.

“This is a great opportunity for us to focus on data-driven decision-making and create a local capacity for funding social programs differently,” said Rowley.

Rowley noted the Missoula County Sheriff’s Department and its new Jail Diversion Task Force. The task force is working to create a plan to address the underlying issues that have resulted in jail overcrowding.

“The Pay for Success initiative could dovetail perfectly with that effort and ultimately provide an alternative funding model for a solution,” Rowley said.

The Pay for Success program drives governments to spend their resources on social efforts that deliver proven results. The program is funded in part by a $1.5 million grant from the White House and its Social Innovation Fund.

The county is planning a daylong discussion next week as it moves through the feasibility process and looks to hire a project analyst.

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