Governor's Directive on COVID-19 and the Criminal Legal System Too Late, and Far Too Little

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
April 1, 2020 4:30 pm

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Montana
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“Unfortunately, Governor Bullock’s directive regarding state correctional facilities lacks a sense of urgency, even as we face a crisis. State and local governments must heed public health expert recommendations for the criminal legal system to flatten the curve. First and foremost, people must be released immediately. There are no provisions in this directive that will lead to the expedited release of people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations. ‘Providing support to the Board of Pardons and Parole’ is vague, undefined, and comes nowhere close to the ACLU-MT’s recommendations to the governor – that DOC immediately compile lists of vulnerable inmates and those lists be provided to the governor for immediate clemency action.

We have repeatedly asked for coordination between the Governor’s office, the Department of Corrections, and counties to ensure that criminal legal system responses are uniform and widespread. This directive contains not a word about county jails or any efforts to ensure people are released at the local level. We appreciate that in-person supervision requirements are being decreased, but those and any in-person drug testing requirements should be suspended as long as there is a shelter-in-place order still active in the state.

Likewise, all inter- and intrastate transfers should be completely suspended and not discretionary. With corrections officers already testing positive in Yellowstone County, this is a common sense measure to suppress the spread of the virus throughout the criminal justice system.

This order also doesn’t address fines, fees, and costs. The suspension of these should be a given when an enormous number of people are out of work. Montanans can’t afford rent, and the Governor has wisely responded by halting evictions. Likewise, Montanans cannot afford fines and fees, and the Governor should halt those as well so people are not penalized unfairly.” SK Rossi, Advocacy and Policy Director

“This directive does not adequately address the broad relief Disability Rights Montana and we are seeking in the emergency petition we filed this morning at the Montana Supreme Court. We need to immediately reduce the number of people potentially exposed to COVID-19 in all aspects of the criminal legal system – from arrest and booking to pretrial detention to probation and parole. A piece-meal approach is not the answer. Every delay will ultimately mean more lives lost.” Alex Rate, Legal Director

For real solutions based on the recommendations of public health experts, go here.

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