McGrath: State Grants Can Help Pay Detention Costs for Tribal Youth
HELENA – The Montana Board of Crime Control must reimburse counties the costs associated with placing tribal youth in regional juvenile detention facilities under tribal court orders, Attorney General Mike McGrath ruled in an opinion issued Thursday.
Board of Crime Control director Jim Oppedahl had asked whether the board could provide grant funds to Blaine County to assist in paying for services to youths from the Fort Belknap Reservation who are placed in the county’s detention facility under a tribal court order.
Under state law, Montana counties are required to provide youth detention services to assure that youth are not detained as adults, and that detained youth have access to educational programs during their detention.
According to the opinion, state law encourages counties to work together “as regions to coordinate the provision of these services and construction and operation of the necessary detention services.” Blaine County is a member of one such region — the North Central Region.
Blaine County and the Tribe have contracted to allow youthful offenders to be placed in the county detention facility by tribal courts. “Nothing in state law prevents the MBCC from reimbursing Blaine County for services it renders to these youth,” the opinion states.
Blaine County included tribal youth in a survey of its youth population, something the opinion concludes “may be required by federal law, since the tribal member youth are Montana citizens and therefore entitled to be offered the state services in the same manner as any other Montana youth.”
Current state law does not appear to address the issue of the MBCC granting money directly to a tribe. Nonetheless, the opinion concludes, tribal jurisdiction over tribal youth does not preclude these youth from being appropriately included in a county’s grant application. Where tribal youth are included in a county’s grant application, MBCC must reimburse the county for the costs associated with placement of those youth.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.