On Wednesday, Gov. Steve Bullock issued a directive to prevent spread of COVID-19 in state correctional facilities.
“Today’s steps follow the best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in places exceed them,” Bullock said in a press release from the Governor's Office. “The aim is to ensure that offender populations in Montana and corrections staff are taking necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
According to the release, the directive:
- Suspends new transfers into Department of Corrections (DOC) custody, except where authorized by the Director. Any new transfers will need to be quarantined for 14 days. The Directive applies to all DOC facilities and contract facilities in Montana.
- Screening anyone who arrives at a facility and restricting all in-person visitation. Inmates will have access to one free video visit and one free phone call each week and the department will continue facilitating unmonitored calls for inmates to communicate with attorneys as necessary. Nothing in the Directive changes the rights of victims to be notified of and participate in any release decisions through the existing process.
- Suspends all transfers into DOC custody unless approved by the Director. Local detention centers are urged to adopt appropriate screening and operational protocol to prevent the introduction or spread of COVID-19 within their facilities. The department is instructed to implement testing and isolation protocols if inmates display symptoms of COVID-19. The department will also follow social distancing measures when possible, provide appropriate personal protective equipment to staff as recommended by the CDC, conduct necessary disinfecting of facilities, and ensure access to personal hygiene products.
- Suspends statutory restrictions on rental voucher funds to allow additional discretion for funds to be utilized for any housing-related expense to ensure adequate re-entry housing.
DOC will reduce in-person contact with the population under community supervision when possible and conduct routine contact via phone or other means. Pre-sentence investigation interviews can be conducted over the phone and DOC is authorized to purchase equipment to promote remote supervision.
The directive also states the Board of Pardons and Parole will consider early release for older inmates, inmates who have medical conditions that make them high risk, pregnant inmates, and inmates nearing their release date, only if the inmate's release does not pose a public safety risk, as determined by the Board, and that inmates can adequately receive medical care and meet supervision requirements in the community.