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Supreme Court Recommends Releasing Inmates

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath has asked judges around the state to release nonviolent and other jail inmates to reduce crowding and protect against the spread of coronavirus.

In a March 20 letter, Mc-Grath asked judges to review jail rosters and release as many prisoners as they can without bond.

Said McGrath, “Because of the high risk of transmittal of COVID-19, not only to prisoners within correctional facilities but staff and defense attorneys as well, we ask that you review your jail rosters and release, without bond, as many prisoners as you are able, especially those being held for non-violent offenses.”

McGrath said that no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Montana’s jails, but, he said, “It is only a matter of time.”

“Due to the confines of these facilities,” he wrote, “it will be virtually impossible to contain the spread of the virus.”

At press time, one jail employee in Yellowstone County has tested positive for coronavirus. Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder said the employee contracted the disease outside the state. He said the employee has had limited contact with inmates.

McGrath issued additional guidelines last week to limit the size of jury pools, delay bench trials and increase video conferencing to limit gatherings of groups.

“Conducting as many hearings as you can using video and other remoter technology,” said McGrath, “will curtail the risk of exposure and transmission of the virus.”

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