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This article appears in the Spring 2023 Inmate Litigation Reporter, an exclusive quarterly digest analyzing new legal developments affecting the rights of people in prison -- developed specifically for people in prison.
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Short Answer: Yes. In State v. Tippets in Montana a treatment facility where an offender spent 56 days as a probation sanction was a "detention center" for purposes of sentencing credit.
On September 14, 2017, police officers in Billings, Montana, responded to complaints from multiple witnesses. The State initially charged Matthew Tippets with felony Indecent Exposure.
On September 27, 2018, staff psychologists at the Montana State Hospital confirmed Tippets's diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder and stated that Tippets suffered from substance abuse issues; however, they ultimately deemed Tippets fit to stand trial. Tippets pleaded guilty to the State's amended charge of felony Criminal Endangerment. On June 12, 2019, a Montana District Court imposed a five-year suspended sentence to the Department of Public Health and Human Services and placed Tippets on probation with the Department of Corrections (DOC).
Probation and Parole Officer Breanne Lewis was assigned to supervise Tippets. Between May 2019 and December 2019, Tippets committed several probation violations, resulting in thirteen separate "case management responses." Tippets's violations included missed meetings for his drug relapse prevention group, five separate instances where Tippets admitted to using methamphetamine, and several other failures to follow treatment instructions for his drug rehabilitation. Tippets also tested positive for methamphetamine on multiple occasions.
On October 11, 2019, an intervention hearing was held due to Tippets's continued failure to comply with his conditions of probation. At that hearing, Tippets was sanctioned to 60 days in the "Mental Health Unit" at the Sanction, Treatment, Assessment, Revocation, and Transition (START) facility in Anaconda "to help address Tippets's mental health concerns."
Tippets was taken into DOC custody on the same day. For the four-day period from October 11 through 15, 2020, Tippets was placed in jail to await transport to the START facility and was eventually transported to the START facility on October 15, 2020, where he served the remaining 56 days of his sanction. Tippets was released from START on December 10, 2019.
On the same day as his release from START, Tippets reported to Officer Lewis that he had "used methamphetamine upon his release from the START transport van." Tippets also tested positive for methamphetamine on that day. In response, Officer Lewis sanctioned Tippets to 60 days of enhanced supervision and increased weekly contact.
On January 7, 2020, Tippets reported to Officer Lewis that he had consumed alcohol. Tippets also failed to report for his mandatory weekly check-ins on January 14 and 28, 2020, prompting Officer Lewis to file a formal "Report of Violation" on January 31, 2020. Officer Lewis's Report summarized Tippets' numerous probation violations, remarked that Tippets' adjustment to supervision had been extremely poor, and noted that Tippets' therapist's view that Tippets was largely "unwilling to address his mental health symptoms.
The State filed a Petition for Revocation, and the District Court held an evidentiary hearing on March 18, 2020. At this hearing, the court orally remarked that Tippets held that Tippets' violations were "substantial," and ordered a Probation Disposition hearing to be held at a later date. The court further remarked that Tippets' unaddressed mental health issues were likely the root cause of his lack of progress in addressing his substance abuse issues.
Tippets' Probation Disposition hearing was held on June 22, 2020. Tippets made several comments about the federal government conspiring against him, thus underscoring Tippets' unaddressed mental health issues. At the close of the hearing, the District Court revoked Tippets' suspended sentence and imposed a new sentence to DPHHS. The court confirmed Tippets' new sentence in its July 2020 Order; however, the Order denied Tippets' request that he be credited for the 60-day period that he served as a sanction at the START facility.
The court determined that Tippets was not entitled to receive credit because Tippets was not incarcerated according to § 46-18-203(7)(b) of the Montana Code. Tippetts appealed.
The Supreme Court of Montana stated that the START facility in Anaconda was operated by the non-profit Community, Counseling, and Correctional Services, Inc. (CCCS), and facility operations were supervised by the DOC. CCCS's contract with the State permitted the DOC to commit probationers to the facility for multi-month periods of time when an offender's community placement was revoked or, as in Tippets' case, as a probation sanction.
The court said that the START facility was similar to a detention facility, as the building is secured by a heavy security presence, is subject to lockdowns, and inmates are confined to cells and pods. The START facility also offers a smaller, specialized "Mental Health Unit" for offenders with specialized mental health needs. START inmates are confined to the facility and offenders typically require direct staff supervision and full restraints outside the facility. Lastly, inmate disciplinary reports from START utilize violation codes that are adopted directly from the Montana State Prison disciplinary policy.
The court found that although the purpose for confinement at START may be rehabilitation, rehabilitation is but one consideration and purpose for any criminal sanction and resulting confinement. Inmates at START are not free to leave the facility until they have served their sanction period. START implements a strict security protocol and conducts daily evening lockdowns where inmates are confined to cells for sleeping.
The court remanded the case for Tippets to receive credit for time served in the amount of 60 additional days for his time served at START.
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