Current Missoula County Commission Chair Nicole “Cola” Rowley is headed to Washington, D.C., to continue her important work on law and justice issues, this time on a national stage.
Earlier this year, the National Association of Counties named Cola to its Justice and Public Safety Policy Steering Committee, and she boarded a plane Friday morning to make her way to NACo’s annual Legislative Conference in the nation’s capital. At the conference, she’ll join county representatives from across the country to help inform NACo policy and advocacy in the realm of law enforcement, courts, corrections, homeland security, community crime prevention, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, emergency management, fire prevention and control, and civil disturbances. She’ll also participate in a panel discussion on “Connecting Federal and County Systems of Care,” which will highlight county efforts to improve child, adult and family outcomes through local health and human services integration models and the collaboration needed among local, state and federal entities to make that happen.
“Missoula County has been a leader in the state when it comes to criminal justice reform, and it’s rewarding to know the hard work of so many people will now spur discussion and strategy at a higher level,” Cola says. “I’m excited for this opportunity to continue to expand my knowledge on innovative, evidence-based best practices and be involved in justice systems policy nationally.”
The list of qualifications that earned Cola this role is impressive. She’s engaged in criminal justice analysis and improvement since she took office in 2015, collaborating with county departments, partner jurisdictions, nonprofits and other agencies to address inequalities in local systems. Her efforts include:
- Partnering with Sheriff T.J. McDermott to apply for and receive a grant from the Policy Innovation Lab at the Sorensen Impact Center to study the feasibility of implementing a Pay for Success financing model to address overcrowding at the Missoula County Detention Facility.
- Engaging Missoula County in the Stepping Up Initiative, a national movement to reduce incarceration of mentally ill individuals. This included successfully applying to bring a team, which included staff from the Sheriff’s Office, County Attorney’s Office and the Western Montana Mental Health Center, to Washington, D.C., for planning and technical assistance to address the issue. Rowley was later invited to speak at the 2016 National Stepping Up Summit.
- Coordinating implementation of many recommendations in the city-county Jail Diversion Master Plan, adopted in 2016. Jail diversion efforts helped the county land two MacArthur Foundation grants in recent years: $50,000 in 2017 for the Native Outreach Project to address over-incarceration of Native Americans, and $700,000 in 2018 for the Safety and Justice Challenge, an over-arching, data-driven justice improvement effort.
- Facilitating formation of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a collaborative, cross-jurisdictional governance structure that oversees more than two dozen justice system projects, services and initiatives in Missoula.
- Helping launch the Kindness, Elegance and Love Project (KELP), a novel collaborative effort at Partnership Health Center that aims to more effectively funnel parents involved in dependent-neglect cases to appropriate services and support. The project was one of four in the country selected for NACo’s Cross-Systems Partnerships Leadership Lab, which helps counties improve the social, health and economic outcomes of populations involved in the justice system.