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Montana high court asks judges to consider releasing inmates

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

HELENA — The chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court is asking city and county judges to consider releasing from jail as many offenders as they can to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote to judges asking them to review their jail rosters for inmates that could be released.

“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 your review your jail rosters and release, without bond, as many prisoners as you are able, especially those being held for non-violent offenses,” McGrath wrote in the letter dated last Friday.

McGrath previously asked judges to reset civil hearings for cases with hearing dates through at least April 30 and urged prosecutors and defense attorneys to review pending criminal cases to determine if they should go forward and to find ways to delay trials. He also urged courts to conduct as much business as possible via video.

In other developments:

  • Classes resumed Monday for many schools in the Montana university system with students taking online classes. The university system encouraged students who returned home for spring break to remain home for the rest of the semester. Some campuses remained open with very basic services, such as grab-and-go meals, said Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian. Christian was one of the first few people in the state to test positive for COVID-19.
  • Beginning Monday, state agencies were asked to evaluate which employees could work from home. Employees who work in 24/7 facilities, those in law enforcement or those whose job duties do not allow them to work remotely have been asked to continue to report to their regular work location.
  • Vicky Byrd, the CEO of the Montana Nurses Association, wrote a Facebook post asking members to “encourage our governor to order our state of Montana residents to stay home (shelter in place) and close all non-essential businesses until further notice.” The governor’s office said officials planned to evaluate how social distancing was working to limit the spread of the virus.
  • Montana had confirmed 54 COVID-19 cases as of late Tuesday, March 24, afternoon. Gallatin County now has 19 cases.

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