HELENA — Jerry Marble has two sons who’ve been released from prison or the state correctional system, including one whose conviction was overturned – but they’re still on the Correction Department’s public website and data base of criminal offenders.
“For my sons or anyone, it affects their employment opportunities, it affects their housing opportunities,” he told MTN News. “After they’ve fulfilled their debt to society and they’re released from the Department of Corrections – then why should they be on that list?”
Marble, who’s from Conrad, said state corrections officials told him that offenders remain on the list for three years after their release – and they rejected his request a year ago to take his sons off.
But just last week, the department told MTN News it has changed its mind – and will remove from the website the names of all offenders who have completed their sentence or supervision, starting Jan. 1.
“The department has received feedback from individuals with felony records that maintaining their names in this database after their sentences have expired makes it difficult to maintain housing and employment – two things we know are important to reducing the risk of recidivism,” the department said in an email.
Advocates for ex-offenders, who had been asking the agency for months to change its policy, hailed the decision Tuesday.
“That’s terrific news,” said Frank Knaack, executive director of the Montana Innocence Project. “The (department) should be doing everything in its power to ensure that people who return to the community don’t face any more barriers than they do already.”
Removing ex-offenders’ name from the DOC website after they’ve been released is “just one less hurdle that these folks will have to face,” he said.
The website, available for anyone to see, allows users to enter someone’s name and see if they’re in prison, on probation, or somewhere within the state correctional system.
It lists their crimes, sentences and status, and has a photograph.
Zeke Campfield of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, who works with people returning to the community from prison, said leaving people on the site after they’re released makes it easy for landlords or potential employers to look them up and reject them as ex-cons.
“There is nowhere on (the website) to see the hard job someone has gone through to recover or (atone for their crime),” he told MTN News. “There is no way to see where someone used to be, and where they are today.
“Someone has been told they’re good to go, and they’re still wearing this red badge. … That’s not part of the deal.”
In some cases, the website is still listing people who’ve been exonerated and had their convictions overturned, for crimes they didn’t commit.
Marble’s son, Cody, was exonerated in 2017 after a 14-plus-year battle to overturn his conviction for a rape he says never occurred. He also ended his probationary period for an unrelated drug charge. But, he’s still listed on the website.
Freddie Joe Lawrence and Paul Jenkins spent 23 years in prison for a 1994 murder before DNA and other evidence cleared them. They were freed in April 2018, but both are still listed on the website, with their status as “released.”
The change does not affect sex-offender or violent-offender registry programs, which will continue.