University Relations and Communications

MSU Billings-led prison mentoring, re-entry efforts get nearly $600,000 in federal grants

October 6, 2011



Kim Gillan, Garfield Community Resource Center, 896-5878
Cindy Bell, Garfield Community Resource Center, 896-5886
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


New grant will help fund Montana Mentoring Project


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — An effort by Montana State University Billings to train and mentor women in the prison system to better prepare them for re-entry into society recently received two major federal grants worth nearly $600,000. In-kind matches will put that total to nearly $900,000.


Simmons at ceremonyEarlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that MSU Billings-led programs were among 118 selected to receive funding this year under the Second Chance Act (SCA). Grantees include both local and state governments and nonprofit organizations.

The selection process was highly competitive. According to Laurie O. Robinson, assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, DOJ received more than 1,000 applications for Second Chance funding this year. Of those, 131 grants were awarded and MSU Billings will receive two.


The university received a two-year, $293,000 grant to provide adult mentoring for offenders associated with the Montana Women’s Prison. The university was one of only 10 entities to receive adult mentoring grants this year.


Also, DOJ awarded through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry continuation funding for MSU Billings’ Adult Offender Reentry Demonstration Project. That grant totals $293,000 with another $293,000 in-kind match from state and community entities.

With the matching funds, the specialized training, mentoring and transition programs for female offenders through MSU Billings will receive $879,000.


Kim Gillan, who coordinates the training and mentoring efforts for MSU Billings at the Garfield Community Resource Center, said the success of the past and future endeavors is due in large part to committed people at the state and local level.


Connections built with people at the Department of Corrections, the Department of Labor and Industry and locally with citizens serving on the Billings Area Reentry Task Force have helped show women offenders that positive futures await them. The task force has 30 members and has worked to develop best-practices for offender re-entry programs.


“The success of these initiatives depends upon good working relationships,” Gillan said. “I am so grateful to all of the community partners that have stepped up to participate…from local businesses such as Master Lube, Crowne Plaza, Best Western Clocktower to organizations such as Alternatives, the Center for Children and Families, the Department of Corrections and many others.”


MSU Billings has been involved in education and specialized workforce training at the Montana Women’s Prison at Passages pre-release for about four years.


Participation in these projects is expected to reduce the rate of recidivism for the targeted female inmates by as much as 50 percent. This translates directly into public safety as well as cost savings for the state and local economy, Gillan said.


“When offenders successfully stay out of prison, the entire community benefits,” she said. “The focus of the program is to help the women develop the skills…for jobs, for housing, for healthy living that will enable them to lead productive lives.”


Gillan also credited Cindy Bell and Shaun Hoover, who both work on the program through MSU Billings, for building on success of the earlier training initiatives.


The continuation funding is for the New Path/New Life project, which provides an integrated reentry pathway for female offenders using collaborative public and private partnerships in Billings. The continuation funding will provide intensive wraparound services for the 30 female participants in the program now who have been identified as being at high risk for recidivism. An additional 30 high-risk offenders will be admitted into the second programmatic year.


The project relies on and expands existing partnerships with a variety of Billings’ social service, educational, and workforce organizations, and will provide evidence-based best practices in pre- and post-release services related to housing, employment planning/work skills development, healthy living, and family stability and reunification.


The new grant will be used to fund the Montana Mentoring Project, which will provide adult mentoring for 30 female offenders who have been identified as being at high-risk for recidivism. The project relies on and expands existing partnerships with a variety of Billings’ social service, educational, and area businesses and will address gaps in current reentry services. Specifically, it will work on:

Facilitating efforts to provide peer support groups and one-on-one mentoring to offenders reentering the Billings community.

Preparing family members for the offender’s return to the community.


Providing programs to build work skills prior to release and connecting returning offenders to employment services.


Gillan said the grants will not only build up the confidence and skill levels for the women offenders, but provide a new level of security and service to the Billings community.


Last year, there were 338 women incarcerated in Billings; 147 at Passages Pre-Release and 191 at the Montana Women’s Prison. An additional 397 women are supervised by Billings Probation and Parole.


According to state data, a large number of female offenders exiting from the Billings correctional facilities continue to reside in Billings, when compared to other state cities and jurisdictions. Of the 192 females who were in prison in 2008 through 2010 and released from a Billings facility, 105 (or 54.7 percent) were released into supervision with Billings Probation and Parole, while the other 87 (or 45.3 percent) were spread among 32 different supervising locations, both throughout the state and out of state.


Because about 80 percent of people involved in the Montana corrections system are in community-based treatment facility, on probation or in a pre-release center, the specialized education and training makes sense, she said.


The MSU Billings project team includes, Gillan, Hoover, Bell, along with 14 MSU Billings instructors from across the university.

Women who qualify for the various New Path/New Life and Pathways to Self Sufficiency programs take a variety of courses to build up skills. They take classes in family economics, math, writing, reading, philosophy, carpentry, construction, small business planning, graphic design and concrete fundamentals.

They also can get involved in programs that offer skills assessment and career planning. 


In order to “graduate,” from the program inmates must complete 124 hours of coursework inthe curriculum “core” of math, reading, personal work skills development and writing, and must complete at least two electives. MSU Billings faculty and community members are hired to teach the classes and serve as mentors. Since its inception, nearly 100 female offenders have participated in the program.

Also involved in this program are area employers, who have given guidance or shared their views on employer needs. Their input has been critical in designing the developmental education classes, special classes such as “Math for the Workplace.”


For more information on the Montana Mentoring Project, the Billings Area Reentry Task Force or the “New Path/New Life” initiative, contact Gillan at 896-5878 or Bell at 896-5886.


PHOTO ABOVE: Bill Simmons, president of Master Lube, talks to graduates of an education and workforce training program at the Montana Women’s Prison in November 2010. Simmons and Master Lube have been partners in reentry and training programs led by MSU Billings that received federal grants this month.