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Montana Chief Justice requests that non-violent jail inmates be released to curb COVID-19 spread

Posted at 7:41 AM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 13:21:15-04

Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath is asking judges across the state to release non-violent and other jail inmates to reduce crowding and protect against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

The letter is addressed to all "Montana Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Judges."

McGrath wrote "...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 noted that no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Montana's jails, but said "it it only a matter of time."

He noted, "Due to the confines of these facilities, it will be virtually impossible to contain the spread of the virus."

A jail worker in Yellowstone County has tested positive for COVID-19. Sheriff Mike Linder said the employee contracted the disease outside the state and had limited if any contact with inmates.

At this point, there is no word on whether any judges have or plan to honor the request.

As of Monday afternoon (March 23), there are 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in Montana.

Here is the total by county:
Gallatin: 16
Yellowstone: 7
Missoula: 6
Flathead: 4
Cascade: 3
Lewis & Clark: 3
Silver Bow: 2
Madison: 1
Ravalli: 1
Broadwater: 1
Roosevelt: 1

There have not been any deaths in Montana attributed to COVID-19 at this point.

Officials in Montana are keeping a list of confirmed cases in the Treasure State on an updated map and website - click here to visit the site. A spokesman for the Montana COVID-19 Task Force says that positive test results for Montana residents who are currently outside the state will not be included in the totals reported on the website, and said: "The state recognizes that its reporting totals will differ from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) total as a result of these reporting processes." Experts still believe the true number of people infected with COVID-19 remains much higher than the number of confirmed cases.

As of Monday afternoon, the DPHHS public health lab in Helena has completed 1,688 tests for COVID-19.