10 Things Every Victim of a Felony in Montana Needs to Know

  1. Your offender probably will not go to prison. Sentencing judges send only one in five adult felony offenders to prison initially. They “commit” the others to the Department of Corrections (DOC) for placement. Eighty percent are placed in alternatives such as boot camp, prerelease centers or drug and alcohol treatment programs in the community.
  2. A prison sentence does not mean your offender will spend all of the time behind bars. Montana prison inmates are eligible for parole after serving one fourth of the sentence unless the judge restricts parole eligibility. Most offenders sentenced to 20 years in prison are eligible for parole in five years. Your offender will not be paroled automatically at the first hearing, but he or she may be allowed to transfer to a prerelease center in the community.
  3. A district court sentence can be reduced. Offenders have the right to petition the Montana Sentence Review Commission to determine if their original sentence was fair. Changes to the district court sentence are rare, but can affect parole eligibility and prison release dates. Offenders also may appeal their convictions to the Montana Supreme Court. Sometimes offenders are released from prison while the court decides the case. Tell your county attorney (prosecutor) that you want to know about appeals or changes to the original sentence. You have the right to this information but you must provide the county attorney your current address and phone numbers.
  4. You probably won’t receive information about the offender’s whereabouts unless you request in writing to be notified. DOC wants to inform you about your offender’s custody status and location, but we don’t know who and where you are unless you tell us. If you are the direct victim of a felony crime, the parent or guardian of a victim under age 18, or a family member of a homicide victim, we urge you to register directly with DOC and with VINE (Victim Information & Notification Everyday). For more information, visit the Notification page.  
  5. Offenders usually get more than one "second chance." Offenders who violate the conditions of supervision are usually placed in sanction (“halfway back”) and treatment programs. Prison is the placement of last resort, usually reserved for violent or sexual offenders who continue to pose a safety risk to the public.
  6. Many criminals do change. The person who committed a crime against you might complete treatment and become an accountable and productive citizen. Offenders under DOC supervision participate in court-ordered programming to address issues related to anger, drug or alcohol dependency, and criminal thinking. Sex offenders must complete additional specialized treatment.
  7. Healing from the trauma of crime is a personal journey that takes time. Well-meaning friends and family might tell you to move on, forgive and forget, get over it, or find closure. Crime victims never forget what happened to them. Closure is a myth. Forgiveness is a deeply personal matter. Trust your own feelings. Seek support through counseling and from crime victim advocates in your community. Ask about DOC programs designed to help victims heal. For more information, call the DOC Victim Services helpline at (888) 223-6332.
  8. Requesting to meet face-to-face with your offender might be the best gift you can give yourself. Most victims have questions about the crime that only the offender can answer. Meeting with an offender is never easy, but victims tell us the process helped them begin to heal. Victim-offender dialogue is voluntary for all parties and occurs only after intensive preparation with a trained facilitator. Call the Department of Corrections (DOC) Victim Services helpline at (888) 223-6332 for details. We can also tell you if your offender has submitted an apology letter to our accountability letter bank.
  9. Many offenders eventually return to the area where the crime occurred even if their victims still live there. Often the offender’s hometown is also the victim’s hometown and the location of the crime. Sexual and violent offenders are occasionally restricted from living in certain areas while on parole. If you have safety concerns, ask your county attorney or victim advocate about an order of protection (sometimes called a restraining order). You can find these forms at the Montana Department of Justice Office of Victim Services website.
  10. Public and victim safety is the DOC’s number one priority. Offenders supervised by the DOC are evaluated for their risk to commit more crimes. They are not placed back in the community before their entire sentence is served if they pose a known safety risk. If you fear for your safety, call local law enforcement to discuss your concerns.