Happy Democracy Day.
What? You didn’t get me anything?
Well, if it’s any consolation (and trust me, it’s not), I didn’t get you anything, either.
But I tried.
And if there’s any situation that shows the absolute absurdity of what democracy looks like in Montana in 2023, it’s Jonathan Perfetto.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Here’s an excerpt of a story from the New Hampshire Bulletin:
“Perfetto pleaded guilty in 2011 to five counts of possession of child sexual abuse images and seven counts of failure to register online as a sex offender, a requirement due to his prior convictions, including 61 counts of possession of child pornography.
“Perfetto is serving two consecutive 10- to 20-year sentences for his 2011 conviction.”
As it turns out, Perfetto misses New Hampshire. And granted, it is a long way from Deer Lodge, Montana, where he is likely being held.
I say “likely” because the Montana Department of Corrections will not say anything about what a child molester from New Hampshire is doing in the Treasure State, at your expense. Officials in Montana will only confirm he’s here. (An interstate compact allows states to trade prisoners for a variety of reasons.)
And New Hampshire has a similar case of bureaucratic fever because they seem incapable or unable to explain how Perfetto made it to Montana several years ago, according to federal court documents.
The Montana DOC is hiding behind a statute (Montana Code Annotated 2-3-1006) that gives it some latitude for not releasing information that would jeopardize the security of inmates or other DOC personnel. Because, well, won’t someone please think of those poor child molesters?
The laws that are meant to protect things like blueprints of a jail, or knowing which correctional officers are assigned to specific duties, I doubt were passed with the intent of allowing officials to not say why a person is in prison, or how they arrived there.
As a journalist, you’ll get no argument from me on the danger of releasing blueprints or security protocols. In the balancing test of public information, that should remain confidential.
Yet during the past week the Daily Montanan has asked three times for the simplest of information: Why is Perfetto in the state of Montana, and how did a man with seemingly no connections to the state arrive here and why is he being housed at our expense?
Apparently, the state can take our tax money to care for him, but won’t tell us what we’re paying for. So much for transparency and accountability.
And, it turns out that I am not the only one displeased with the state Department of Corrections, because Perfetto’s case came to our attention because he wants to go back to New Hampshire because he claims Montana’s psychiatric care is subpar.
I didn’t even think about asking the Montana Department of Corrections to respond to allegations that Perfetto wasn’t getting adequate psychiatric care. Heck, they won’t even disclose why he’s there in the first place.
Given the numerous problems with the state’s hospital in Warm Springs and its prison in Deer Lodge, Perfetto may have a point.
However, as we focus on the state of democracy both here in Montana and nationally, we will only be as good as the information that we can access. Put another way, democracy has to be more than a concept. It has to have teeth.
I admit: It’s easy to get swept up in the national politics of Hunter Biden, 91 felony indictments of Donald Trump or a federal government shutdown. Closer to home, we can rightfully fret about property taxes. While important, don’t forget the very real and less glamorous day-to-day health of democracy, which is predicated upon access to information.
I can’t tell you why a convicted child molester from 10 states away is here.
And neither will your government.