Governor Bullock Issues Directive to Prevent Spread of COVID-19 in State Correctional Facilities
MONTANA – Governor Steve Bullock today issued a Directive implementing measures at correctional facilities in Montana to protect inmates and staff and curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“Today’s steps follow the best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and in places exceed them,” said Governor Bullock. “The aim is to ensure that offender populations in Montana and corrections staff are taking necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Due to the 2017 Legislature’s bipartisan criminal justice reform laws, many nonviolent offenders supervised by DOC are already serving out their sentences in a community setting.
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.
The Directive also includes several measures to be implemented by the DOC including 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.
The Board of Pardons and Parole will also consider early release for older inmates, inmates who have medical conditions that make them high risk, pregnant inmates, and inmates nearing their release date—but only where the Board determines that release does not pose a public safety risk and that inmates can adequately receive medical care and meet supervision requirements in the community.
The Directive 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.
For the population under community supervision, DOC will reduce in-person contact 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.
It is imperative for public safety that those re-entering communities from facilities obtain appropriate, adequate housing during this time where supportive social services are limited. Statutory restrictions on rental voucher funds are suspended to allow additional discretion for funds to be utilized for any housing-related expense to ensure adequate re-entry housing.