The spread of COVID-19 is a public health crisis that is affecting all of our lives in some way. Here at the ACLU of Montana, we’re taking measures to protect the health and well-being of staff, family, and loved ones in this unsettling time. Based on CDC recommendations and putting the common good of our country above all, our physical offices are temporarily closed. But, rest assured, throughout this crisis, we continue to defend the rights and freedoms of all Montanans -- we’re all working remotely, and our operations continue unhindered thanks to our flexible and dedicated staff.
In a public health emergency such as this, the government’s response must be guided by science and public health experts and be no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary. In this and all times of crisis, it is critical that “We The People” truly means all of us. The ACLU is working nationwide to ensure the burdens of the outbreak and the government’s actions do not unfairly fall on our most vulnerable communities.
In Montana, among the populations most vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak are those in Montana’s criminal legal system. As health and medical experts have said, law enforcement and state governments should be taking whatever steps they can to reduce the number of people in state custody to prevent the virus from spreading in prisons and jails.
Take action now to urge Governor Bullock to take necessary steps in protecting people in our criminal legal system.
What We're Doing
With Disability Rights Montana and the Beck, Amsden and Stalpes law firm, we filed an emergency petition to the Montana Supreme Court to use its authority to immediately reduce the number of incarcerated people in Montana in these extraordinary circumstances. Doing so would mitigate the mortal harm to incarcerated people with disabilities while also protecting other incarcerated people from undue harm, public health, and public safety. Our petition was denied on April 14, but we continue our efforts to protect people in custody.
Together with allies, we’ve urged the Governor, the Director of the Department of Corrections, and representatives from every part of the criminal legal system to prioritize releasing people who are vulnerable and, as much as possible, end new incarcerations, revocations from supervision, and other activities that make social distancing impossible. The state must do everything it can to protect incarcerated people, medical staff in jails and prisons and correctional officers. To limit outbreaks of COVID-19 in jails and prisons, officials must act, and they must act quickly. Read more.
We've also asked Governor Bullock to issue an executive order. He has the power to take swift action to reduce prison and jail populations and lessen the spread of COVID-19. Among other changes, the order should ask the Department of Corrections and Parole Board to immediately identify and release certain populations, including people with a short amount of time left in their sentence, people who are older than 55, and those with health issues that make them exceptionally vulnerable. In addition to holding the government accountable to protecting the health of the people in its custody, we also are watching how COVID-19 responses by the government and other stakeholders could infringe on the rights of other marginalized or otherwise vulnerable Montanans.
- Watch: Why Coronavirus Should Change How We Police
- Read our opinion piece: Montana Must Act to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 in Prisons and Jails
- Learn more: Nationwide ACLU response to COVID-19