GREAT FALLS — Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter says the Cascade County Detention Center has been taking every precaution recommended by the CDC to keep COVID-19 out of the jail, and they have been taking steps beyond the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control.
But many of the public defenders have been taking steps trying to get inmates released due to the pandemic. Heated arguments took place in the courtroom on Monday as attorney Mark Frisbie argued for the release of one of his clients, something the courts will expect to see more of in the coming days.
According to Sheriff Slaughter as well as County Attorney Josh Racki, several public defenders in Cascade County have been filing motions to have their clients released on the basis of the possibility of exposure to the novel coronavirus.
Judge Elizabeth Best said, “I am trying my best and I think other judges are as well to get people released where we can.”
Judge Best also added that they are using a very robust pre-trial assessment program to get people who are considered low-risk offenders released. According to the Sheriff, that means the remaining inmates have been deemed too high a risk to qualify for pre-trial release.
We don’t have an exact number of attorneys that are filing similar motions at this time.
Judge Best also said there is a possibility of looking at caps on bail amounts, to prevent people who are unable to afford bail from being stuck in custody, stating, “I think that is a discussion that is worth having but I think it needs to be had in the context of how are we keeping the public safe in the meantime.”
Steps the Detention Center is taking already:
- Screening of anyone coming into the facility as well as anyone inside the vehicle
- If anyone is symptomatic, they are sent to Benefis or CCHD to be tested. The people are contained in pressurized cells until testing is completed.
- If test comes back negative they are kept in isolation until they are cleared by medical personnel and would be released to general population
Taking steps beyond what is required by the CDC for jails to follow:
- Staff self-screen at home. They would be tested at Benefis or CCHD. Staff would remain at home until test comes back. If negative they will be released to go back to work and if positive, they would be quarantined at home.
- Requesting a reduction in population to send a number of inmates to the Montana State Prison-who were slated to move to the State prison anyways. This would bring population down to at capacity.
- Lawyers have no physical contact with their clients - only over the visitation phones in the facility.
- No person to person contact during meal delivery
- Medical personnel have PPE and meet weekly to discuss any changes
- Access to disinfectants for cleaning
IF THERE IS AN OUTBREAK - the Cascade County Detention Center would take the following steps:
- Isolate the unit feed individually cell by cell and medical personnel would
- Staff on duty would remain there and provide security, essentially locked into the facility.
- Quarantine everyone in there if the entire facility were to be infected; staff are aware of this plan
Jail staff say that inmates are well aware of what is going on and they seem to understand regulations are for their safety as well as staff, and they noted that violence among inmates is down in recent weeks.