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The latest news about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Montana.

Supreme Court Won't Order The State To Reduce Prison, Jail Populations During COVID-19 Outbreak

Montana Supreme Court seal

The Montana Supreme Court will not mandate expanded measures requested by disability rights advocates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Montana prisons and jails.

Justices Tuesday unanimously denied a petition filed two weeks ago by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana on behalf of Disability Rights Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock’s recently issued a directive to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in correctional facilities.

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath last month asked city and county courts to consider releasing as many non-violent inmates from jail as possible.

But Disability Rights Montana asserted both actions were patchwork responses. The group asked the Supreme Court for a uniform order directing all facilities to immediately review and reduce their inmate populations.

In their denial, justices said the group failed to establish that corrections officials violated their duty to reduce prisoner populations.

In response to the court’s order, ACLU of Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann said, "We are deeply concerned to see the state gamble with people’s lives."

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox praised the ruling saying the release of inmates sought by the ACLU, "would have further jeopardized public safety at the time when we are all grappling with a pandemic and its fallout."

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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