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Montana Supreme Court rules against releasing more inmates

Posted at 6:56 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-17 11:12:02-04

The Montana Supreme Court denied a request to release more nonviolent jail inmates in an order issued on Tuesday.

Last month, Chief Justice Mike McGrath sent a letter to courts, asking them to review which prisoners could be released in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

Disability Rights Montana and American Civil Liberties Union attorneys argued that state prisoners with disabilities are at risk.

The brief states that some of the actions at jails, prisons, and houses of correction, have been inadequate.

On Tuesday, the court disagreed, saying the Governor's directive and CDC interim guidance best address the current crisis.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, said those running jails and prisons take care of inmates.

"They have done very well in protecting Montanans in particularly inmates and detention staff," Fox said. "So we were somewhat surprised that the ACLU filed a lawsuit just a few days ago on behalf of Disability Rights Montana, seeking to force the state of Montana to release literally hundreds of inmates who are in jail or prison. The Montana Supreme Court issued a unanimous 7-0 decision denying the petition for extraordinary writ filed by the ACLU, and really pointing out that what they had alleged was not supported fact or in law."

The Yellowstone County Detention Facility currently holds 368 inmates, which is down about 25 percent from normal.

No COVID-19 cases have been reported in an inmate in any jail in Montana as of Thursday. One jail guard in Yellowstone County tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling out of state, but Sheriff Mike Linder said he had limited to no contact with inmates.