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Disability Rights Montana is Hiring an Advocacy Specialist

Disability Rights Montana seeks to hire an Advocacy Specialist. Under the supervision of an attorney, the Advocacy Specialist position advocates to advance and the human, civil, and legal rights of applicants and eligible clients of Disability Rights Montana, the federally mandated protection and advocacy agency for the State of Montana.

Applicant must be self-motivated, have the ability to problem solve through investigation and research, demonstrate proficient writing skills, possess basic computer knowledge, and be able to communicate effectively with people with disabilities, family members, and providers. 

Five years of qualifying experience required; or a Bachelor’s Degree and three years of qualifying experience. 

Position is located in Helena, Montana. Some travel may be required. Salary is commensurate with experience. A generous benefit package includes paid time off, 403(b) retirement plan, health, life, dental, vision, and long term care insurance. 

Please submit a letter of interest and resume by May 15, 2017, to:           

Kelli Kaufman
Director of Finance & Administration
1022 Chestnut Street
Helena, MT 59601                                                               

or by email to:

SB 271 and HB 387

Montana Developmental Center EntranceAs the 2017 Legislative Session draws to a close, many bills are moving quickly and in unexpected ways. While this is true for bills on many topics, it is especially true for the bills addressing the Montana Developmental Center (MDC). There are two primary bills that address the closure of MDC. These are SB 271 and HB 387. Each one has been amended and entirely changed from its original form. As this could easily happen again in the next week, it is probably not helpful to provide the specifics of these bills here. Instead, we feel it may be most helpful to explain what the competing proposals generally provide.   

The proposal that we support would extend the closure process by two years and require the State to submit a proposal to change the current waiver that reimburses community providers for their services. We are concerned that although 11 of the current 23 residents at MDC have a provider placement awaiting them, these providers cannot hire sufficient staff to help the residents. This is largely due to problems with the reimbursement system that the State established for these providers. As a consequence, although we remain very concerned about the rate of abuse and neglect that is still occurring at MDC, we believe that the closure needs to be extended in order to have time to change the reimbursement system so the community system has the capacity to serve people appropriately. 

There is a competing proposal, however, that keeps the entirety of MDC open for two more years while also providing that a 12 bed facility will be established to provide crisis services. From the testimony, this proposal would be regarding the ASU, which is part of the MDC campus and has 12 beds. It is licensed under state law, as it does not meet federal certification requirements for Medicaid. This is because it is a more jail-like facility than the rest of the campus. Also, although this is intended to be a crisis facility, the length of these involuntary commitments would be one year long. 

We believe it is very premature to establish that this 12 bed facility will be open for the foreseeable future. We believe this for many reasons, including not only the unacceptably high rate of abuse and neglect at MDC, but the lack of appropriate habilitation and treatment at that facility.

SJ 25

We are excited to support SJ 25, a study of the use of solitary confinement in state and county facilities in Montana. It has recently passed the Senate and is moving on to the House of Representatives. This study will collect information about the use of solitary confinement in our prisons, jails, and county juvenile facilities. Given the very negative effects of solitary confinement on adults with mental illness and juveniles, the study will identify ways to substantially reduce and eliminate the use of solitary confinement for these individuals. From our monitoring work, we are very familiar with the use of solitary confinement in the Montana State Prison with individuals with serious mental illnesses. Through our work on this study resolution, we have learned that it is also used at the Montana Women's Prison as well as some juvenile facilities. We look forward to learning about the full scope of the issue and looking for solutions. 

Legislator argues MSH patients should have a hearing before transfer to prison

Image of Senator Roger WebbUndeterred by Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto two years ago, Sen. Roger Webb introduced a bill Monday that would require a hearing before a patient found “guilty but mentally ill” can be transferred from the Montana State Hospital to the State Prison.

The three-term Republican argued that the current transfer procedure -- which involves a review board composed of state employees and does not grant the patient any representation or notice -- is a violation of due process rights and undermines the intent of judges who sentence convicts to intensive treatment only found at the hospital.

“All we’re asking for is an independent review board. Absolutely I don’t want just folks employed by (the Department of Public Health and Human Services), which is kinda like the fox watching the hen house,” he said. “This is about accountability. And it gives the individual a fighting chance at his own civil rights.”

“What we’re most concerned about as judges is making sure the individual who is guilty but mentally ill is taken care of. Most of the time it’s not their fault what happens,” he said. “They don’t belong in prison. They can’t get along (in general population) and end up in solitary confinement … All this bill does is make the Department prove before they transfer somebody that it’s in their best interest.”

Webb’s measure is similar to one he carried in 2015. It passed the Senate, 45-5, and the House, 97-1, but was vetoed by Bullock. A mail vote to override the veto failed to reach the necessary two-thirds approval, falling short 16 votes in the House and 6 votes in the Senate.

In a May 2015 veto letter, Bullock wrote the bill would create “an additional and costly taxpayer-funded hearing to second-guess the recommendations of the inmate treating professionals. It gives GBMI inmates special rights after they have already received full due process of law when they were found guilty, sentenced and had the right to appeal.”

His letter also noted overcrowding at the forensic unit of the state hospital and called the transfer process “rare.”

In the last five years, 26 people have been transferred from the state hospital to the state prison and only two have been transferred back, Webb, DPHHS officials and others testified.

Bullock Communications Director Ronja Abel said in a written statement that Bullock is monitoring the bill, but declined to say whether he intended to veto it this year.

“The governor continues to have concerns about the potential cost to taxpayers resulting from the bill, the failure to recognize the recommendations of treatment professionals, and the safety of staff and patients,” she said.

Click here for Helena IR post.

First Fridays Family Training poster


2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Montana Legislative Session began January 2, 2017.  As we have in prior years, DRM will be producing a short legislative e-newsletter nearly every Friday during the session to keep you all up to date on issues we care about. From critical decision making during the budget process, to monitoring our institutions, to protecting the disability community’s civil rights, we will endeavor to give you concise information to keep you informed and enable you to participate in the process. We are very lucky that our legislators are far more accessible than in other states. Make sure your legislators hear from you! Read the latest edition of our Legislative Update here!

DRM Education Website and Student Rights Handbook

Disability Rights Montana launched its Education Website and published its Student Rights Handbook. The project is designed to help parents, advocates, and educators learn about the legal requirements and resources available for students with disabilities and to help ensure the civil and legal rights of students with disabilities are protected to the maximum extent of the law.  The site focuses on the educational rights of children with disabilities, but also covers information applicable to students with disabilities of all ages. Our Education Website can be accessed here on our home page by clicking "Education" on the Menu Bar above or directly at The Student Rights manual can be found on the site or directly at  

On the site you will find information about DRM′s education workgroup, the legal rights of students with disabilities, resources for parents, students and educators, and sample forms to assist parents and advocates in protecting student’s rights. It is our hope that this website will be a valuable resource for everyone working to educate Montanans of all abilities. 

We welcome feedback and comments for how we can improve our Education Website as well as information about resources and practitioners we should include. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to contact DRM. DRM’s Education Website and Student Rights Handbook were authored by Tal Goldin, supervising attorney for DRM’s Education Unit, with editing assistance from Kelsi Steele, DRM Education Advocate, and Laurie Danforth, DRM paralegal and executive assistant.  The project was supported in part by a generous grant from the Montana Justice Foundation.

Disability Rights Montana License Plate now available

Disability Rights Montana's specialty license plate is now available. You can purchase the plate by visiting your county treasurer's office. A one-time administrative fee and production cost for the specialty plate will be collected along with the standard vehicle registration fee and sponsor donation fee.

DRM License Plate Design

$20 Yearly Tax-deductible Donation to DRM
$10 One-time Administration Fee
$10 One-time Production Cost

Please show your support with the DRM license plate! Your purchase of the plate includes a $20 tax-deductible donation to support DRM and its work to protect the rights of Montanans with disabilities.

Get Your Raffle Ticket Now to Support Disability Rights Montana

Support Disability Rights Montana and become eligible for great prizes by entering the 23rd annual Montana Shares Raffle. Montana Shares is a partnership of nonprofit organizations working to build better communities across Montana. Contributions to member groups are made through Montana Shares each year during statewide workplace giving campaigns. All donations to the raffle support Montana Shares in its efforts to helping Disability Rights Montana and other nonprofits diversify fundraising and raise public awareness. Raffle tickets and the list of prizes can be downloaded by clicking here.

We urge you to enter the raffle today and help support this great organization. Through Montana Shares, Disability Rights Montana is able to raise thousands of additional dollars through workplace giving each year and raise public awareness within state and federal agencies and the more than 150 other workplaces that take part in the annual giving campaign.

To enter the raffle, return the tickets, along with a check before September 9th, 2017 to:

Montana Shares
P.O. Box 883
Helena, MT 59624

Thank you for your support of MontanaShares and Disability Rights Montana.

DRM released its September issue of its Transition Newsletter. You can access the Newsletter by clicking here. Articles include: What is the PABSS Program and how can PABSS help schools and students and their families?; and What is the Client Assistance Program and Transition services mandated in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). There is also a calendar of upcoming events. 

Best Practices in Community Services for People Who Have Developmenta...

Below is a video of a converation with Allan Bergman with a positive view of the national movement to close institutions, as it has led to the creation of systems that help people live fuller and more positive lives than they had in institutional settings.

This video is a follow-up to the first in the bipartisan public education series "Best Practices in Community Services for People who have Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities" which was held on March 23, 2016, at the Montana Capitol. The bipartisan public education series was developed by Senator Ed Buttrey and Senator Mary Caferroto to help build understanding of cri More....

Patients Challenge Isolation, Abuse, and Failed Treatment at Montana ...

On August 15, 2016, four patients at Montana State Hospital sued state officials and staff for the isolation, abusive and deficient treatment they have been subjected to at the Hospital in Warm Springs. The lawsuit alleges that officials at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as well as staff at the Montana State Hospital have violated state and federal law in their treatment of the four patients. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop these practices as well as damages for the patients for the harm they have suffered.

Two of the patients have been subjected to long-term isolation nearly 24 hours a day for more than a year. This has markedly worsened their conditions and caused them extreme psychological and emotional harm.

A third patient was sub More....

DRM Releases Report
Disability Rights Montana released a report January 23, 2015, with significant details of numerous case stories of abuse and neglect at the Montana Developmental Center.  Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice over the course of the past year reveal that twenty-seven staff members, including the Director of Quality Assurance and Superintendent, have been involved in the case stories.  Some of the cases involve serious injuries, rape, and felony assault.   

DRM has monitored MDC for more than twenty years, and cites a climate and culture at MDC that perpetuates and tolerates abuse.  The cases cited in the report document slapping, grabbing, squeezing, pulling residents by the ankles, throwing them hard to the ground, kneeling o More....