Montana Board of Crime Control

Program Highlights

Montana Board of Crime Control (MBCC) honors criminal justice programs and community-based programs that merit recognition for providing effective services to address public safety-related issues in their communities or statewide. For your program to be considered, please complete the information below and provide any supplemental materials as appropriate. MBCC will highlight at least two programs per year and applications will be archived for future consideration. MBCC will highlight programs with a statewide press release, certificate of recognition, placement of program information on MBCC’s website and attendance scholarship/recognition at the Annual Montana Crime Prevention Conference.


Victim-Witness Assistance Services

2021 Recipient

Victim-Witness Assistance Services logo

Nichole Griffith and Lacey Bateman from Victim-Witness Assistance Services and the MBCC Board of Directors on the staircase at the Grant Union Hotel in Fort Benton
From left to right:
Bottom row - Sheriff Leo Dutton, Lacey Bateman,
Nichole Griffith, Shantelle Gaynor, Rick Kirn
Middle row - Bryan Lockerby, Kaydee Snipes Ruiz
Top row - Jared Cobell, Mike Sanders, and Wyatt English

Victim-Witness Assistance Services (VWAS) is a unique community-based victim services program that also provides system-based services to victims of crime in Cascade County. For 30 years, VWAS has provided free and confidential services to all victims of crime, has helped victims cope with victimization, and has ensured victims have a voice in the criminal justice process. VWAS advocates provide 24-hour crisis response services and work closely with law enforcement, hospital staff, City and County prosecutors, the Child Advocacy Center, the local shelter staff, and other community organizations to best serve victims of crime.

VWAS started as a college project in the early 1990s in response to the evident need for services to be available for victims in Cascade County. With the help of the late Lt. Jim Sharpe, VWAS started with a handful of volunteers, a desk, and a phone in the middle of an office in the Great Falls Police Department.

What started as a volunteer project to create a safe space for victims of crime has evolved into a fully functional non-profit that outgrew its small police department office, has employed up to four full-time advocates, and handles approximately 500 active cases at any given time. VWAS staff serve as the crime victim advocates throughout the criminal justice process, the community advocates for crisis response at the emergency room, trained advocates for the local accredited Child Advocacy Center, and as partners for law enforcement to call upon.

VWAS Director, Nichole Griffith, was selected to serve on the state Child Abuse and Neglect Review Commission and the new local Crime Task Force in Great Falls. Current VWAS advocates have been serving the community since 2007 and 2008 and are still going strong. In a career field that sees so much trauma, sadness, frustration, and turnover, VWAS finds strength in the opportunity to help others and provide support when needed most.


First Step Resource Center Family Advocacy

2019 Recipient

First Step seeks to improve the community response to child abuse and adult sexual violence and to support victims of abuse and their families in recovery.

First Step Resource Center is a nationally-accredited Children’s Advocacy Center and adult sexual response program located in Missoula, Montana. First Step serves child victims of abuse and child witnesses to violence and their non-offending family members, as well as adult and adolescent victims of sexual assault.

First Step Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners provide confidential and compassionate medical evaluations, evidence collection, and forensic interviews.

First Step’s mental health and family advocacy staff provide crisis intervention, referrals for follow-up care and counseling, and on-site therapy.

First Step began providing medical exams and forensic interviews in 2000, and has grown in response to western Montana’s needs ever since. In 2010, First Step began offering mental health services, and in 2013, added a care coordinator to provide family advocacy.



As the number of children and families served at First Step continued to increase over the years, the need for mental health services and family advocacy became apparent. First Step is a member agency of Missoula’s Multidisciplinary Team (MDT), which responds to reports of child abuse and adult sexual assault. The MDT includes law enforcement, Child and Family Services, the County Attorney’s Office, and community mental health providers and advocacy agencies. First Step’s Care Coordinator acts as an advocate to the family throughout the course of an investigation.

In recent years, First Step’s mental health and advocacy staff recognized that children with “problematic sexual behaviors (PSB)” resulting from trauma could be served better by our community’s system. Traditionally, law enforcement and the legal system have few options of how to respond to a child who “acts out” sexually, other than to treat that child as a perpetrator, or in some cases, do nothing at all.

Best practices, however, show that rather than a punitive system response to children with PSB, a supportive and trauma-focused therapeutic approach to the child and family is ultimately more effective. With the goal of diverting these children away from traditional criminal justice response, professionals in Missoula formed a task force to design an evidence-based evaluation and treatment process for children with PSB.

First Step’s Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Care Coordinator and MSW Practicum Student have developed a pilot program to divert children with trauma-related PSB from the criminal justice system to therapeutic treatment.

As with other children served at First Step, the target group will be served by a multidisciplinary team that includes the County Attorney’s Office and Youth Court, therapists, law enforcement and Child and Family Services, all of whom are familiar with the PSB treatment model. In September 2018, a group of community therapists received advanced training for treating children with PSB related to trauma; First Step has formal linkage agreements with therapists in the community who are prepared to work with these children and their families.

The pilot program has formally launched and is the stage of identifying children and families who will be well-served by the model. Prior to the launch of the pilot, First Step’s LCSW has treated families based on this model, including collaboration with the multidisciplinary team, with positive results from both the families’ perspectives and the MDT’s.

As an accredited Child Advocacy Center (CAC), First Step has a well-established MDT, which is an integral part of the CAC model. Missoula has the good fortune of having a solid MDT after nearly twenty years of collaborative response to child abuse and sexual violence; the strength of this group has allowed the task force to develop at alternative response for this vulnerable population.

Broadly, the family advocacy model is replicable in any community with a multidisciplinary approach to child abuse. As a core function of the CAC model, family advocacy provides the necessary bedrock for the diversion model for children with PSB. The diversion model would also be replicable in any community that is committed to compassionate care with a focus on possibility, accountability and fostering growth.

In anonymous post-evaluation surveys, caregivers of children served at First Step consistently describe being treated with compassion and warmth by staff, and describe feeling reassured in the midst of the difficult situations that bring families to the clinic.

Center for Restorative Youth Justice

2017 Spring Recipient

The Center for Restorative Youth Justice (CRYJ) works from a foundational belief that all people have value and worth - and that our communities are most effective when we feel safe to connect with each other. CRYJ’s restorative programming offers deep levels of relationship-oriented accountability & support. We embrace a trauma informed alternative to community harm and wrong doing - focusing on programming that proactively addresses the high public costs associated with youth incarceration, suspension, and expulsion.

Since its inception in 2010, CRYJ has served more than 2,500 youth in Flathead County, and have contributed to a community cost savings of more than half a million dollars through a shift from high cost detention models to greater support and availability of low level interventions and diversion programming.

The Center for Restorative Youth Justice focus their programming around restorative justice practice. A restorative approach provides a way to build community, while also intervening with problems in ways that can be transformative for all involved. Restorative Justice offers a paradigm shift in the way we think of crime or breaking rules. Its principles teach us to think not only about the off ender but also about the victim; not only about the court but also about the community; not only about the law or the rules that were broken - but also about the real impacts on the people around you. The big shift is from rules (or laws) to relationships. Restorative Practices are not a singular program or process, but instead a philosophy and practice based on a core set of principles that emphasize:

  • healing and repair over punishment
  • inclusion over exclusion
  • individual accountability with a high level of community support and investment

Key Statistics

Ninety-eight percent Youth who participate in CRYJ’s Restorative Programming are more likely to complete all probation requirements - including restitution to victims. Youth participants are more likely to stay in school and to follow through on chemical dependency recommendations.

Since 2010 - CRYJ has provided alternative diversion programming to more than 38% of all cases referred to juvenile probation in Flathead County. These youths are offered the chance to have their charges dismissed - and benefit from a diverse offering of relationship oriented workshops.

Youth who complete CRYJ’s Restorative Programming model are three times less likely to go on to commit additional offenses. In contrast - nationally, 75% of youth charged with an offense continue to recidivate.

Model Programs

Trellis Project

In 2016 we launched The Trellis Project. Born from a desire to create and expand opportunities for at-risk youth to have access to meaningful and empowering activities - The Trellis Project is a partnership with Kalispell Public School to take on the maintenance and harvesting of the district’s school gardens - which in turn supply the district’s food services program with organic youth-grown produce. This summer, CRYJ participants harvested more than 1,700 pounds of organic produce, while building important job and life skills through a hands-on garden based curriculum.

School Justice Partnership

CRYJ staff and a group of eight team members from Flathead County were accepted to Georgetown University’s School - Justice Partnerships Certificate Program. The local team was selected as one out of only seven in the nation. CRYJ is deeply committed to school partnerships - and working across agency lines to bring more restorative and trauma-informed approaches to behavior interventions. Motivated in part by the Georgetown program - CRYJ expanded programming in 2016 to emphasize several school partnership models that will address both the immediate and long term needs of students known to, or at risk of entering, the juvenile justice system.

August Farm to Table Event

In August, we held our 3rd Annual Farm to Table Dinner on site at the beautiful Two Bear Farm. For us, this event tells a beautiful ‘full circle’ experience created by CRYJ’s programming. Youth not only grew and harvested some of the food served at the event, but were able to work alongside award winning chefs to create and prepare the menu. What was especially exciting about the 2016 event was the opportunity to leverage donations through participation in Whitefish Community Foundation’s Great Fish Challenge. Through the generous support of more than 100 donors, and a community match provided by the foundation - CRYJ raised more than $31,000 to fund the Trellis Project & Youth Leadership Team.

Youth Leadership Team

CRYJ offers Youth Leadership Internship positions during the summer months. Through workshops and one-on-one mentoring - these interns played a leadership role in the garden, and were encouraged to expand their job skills while also serving as peer leaders for other participants. Youth Leadership Team members were all graduates of CRYJ’s programming - and received a stipend at the end of their summer service. 100% of the Youth Leadership Team interns transitioned into full-time paid positions with local restaurants and caterers after the summer program.

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