On Wednesday, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced a $700,000 grant as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, to Missoula County to continue building on efforts to reform the local criminal justice system and safely reduce Missoula County’s jail population.

Sheriff T.J. McDermott said the funding will be a huge help in further implementing the Jail Diversion Plan that was instituted in 2017.

“Today at the press conference, myself, other elected officials and community leaders talked about the challenge, the grant money, and some of the things that grant money will be put towards that relate directly to our city-county jail diversion master plan they we’re so proud of,” said McDermott. “It was adopted by the City of Missoula as well as the county just last year.”

McDermott looked back to the beginning of his work in law enforcement and just how far society has come in helping to treat the mentally ill who are incarcerated.

“When I began my law enforcement career, these types of programs for mental health services were nonexistent in our jails,” he said. “Now, with some of our diversionary measures, our crisis intervention training, this grant will help support some of the front-end jail diversion options that are available to law enforcement to identify folks who have mental illnesses, and try to diver them into a medical facility for treatment.”

Missoula County was first selected to join the collaborative Safety and Justice Challenge Network in 2017 with funding to address the disproportionate number of Native Americans incarcerated at the Missoula County Detention Facility.

The grant is part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, a $148 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.