The ACLU of Montana contacted Governor Bullock and Montana Department of Corrections Director Michael last week urging them to develop plans to protect some of Montana’s most vulnerable population from COVID-19 – the people in our prisons and jails, and those involved in the criminal justice system. Today, the organization, along with partner organizations, urged the Governor, Director Michael, 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. Read the letter.
People in prisons and jails are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses. They are housed in close quarters and are sometimes in poor health. Without the active engagement of the prison and jail administrations, they have little ability to inform themselves about preventive measures or to take such measures if they do manage to learn of them.
The ACLU of Montana and partner organizations requested swift action to:
- Prevent people from unnecessarily entering the criminal legal system in the first place through coordination with local health departments, counties, and cities to stem unnecessary arrests and detention;
- Reduce the number of people in prisons, jails, and other detention facilities;
- Ensure those who are incarcerated have access to necessary personal hygiene products and information;
- Take steps to maintain and make publicly available accurate data on infection and prevention in prisons and jails;
- Release vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with high risk health conditions;
- Severely curtail supervision requirements that force people to ignore social distancing and leave their homes unnecessarily, like random drug testing and in-person probation and parole check-ins.
SK Rossi, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the ACLU of Montana states: “We understand that there’s a lot to do and vulnerable populations need to come first in COVID-19 response planning. That’s exactly what our criminal legal system creates on a daily basis - vulnerable people. Governor Bullock, Director Michael, and all local county and city officials need to start stemming the flow of people into our prisons and jails and make plans to immediately release a vast number of those already detained. This is life or death. We’re going to continue broadening our response and communicating with state leaders and stakeholders until something is done.”
The ACLU of Montana and partners further recommend:
- Sheriffs to cooperate with expedited release procedures;
- Governor Bullock to use his executive power of clemency to get vulnerable individuals out of prison and into their homes or medical facilities where proper care can be administered.
The Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Montana Human Rights Network, Montana Women Vote, Montana Budget and Policy Center, Montana Innocence Project, Welcome Back Re-Entry Group, and Disability Rights Montana have joined the ACLU of Montana in issuing their recommendations and support.