DEER LODGE — The Montana Department of Corrections logged its first COVID-19 cases among inmates at Montana State Prison (MSP) this week and continues to track and help manage the virus among facility employees to ensure the health and safety of offenders and staff at the prison.
COVID-19 testing conducted at MSP late last week identified eight cases of the virus in the facility’s inmate population. Staff cases at MSP totaled 23 as of this morning. Not all staff testing is conducted by the DOC; staff members are tested by their personal health care providers, local health departments, and more.
“We hoped we would be fortunate enough to avoid any inmate cases by implementing stringent precautions to protect against COVID-19 at all our secure facilities in the early stages of this pandemic,” DOC Director Reginald D. Michael said Thursday. “However, we also prepared for this possibility. We have educated our workforce and inmate population to make sound choices related to the virus to help prevent spread within the facility, and we have knowledgeable health care staff to provide the best medical services possible to the people in our care.”
The department’s Clinical Services staff, with guidance from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is ensuring proper quarantine and isolation of infected inmates, and conducting contact tracing within the facility. In addition, the department’s health care staff visits offenders in the various units daily to answer questions, monitor offender health status, and provide appropriate medical care.
Safety measures implemented at DOC secure facilities early in the pandemic, and which remain in effect, include:
- Education of staff and inmates about how to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19, and how to prevent the spread of the virus though good personal hygiene, social distancing, use of personal protective equipment.
- Increased cleaning and disinfection efforts.
- Provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for inmates and staff members to wear — mask use is mandatory for DOC employees inside secure facilities. The DOC’s Montana Correctional Enterprises produces an assortment of PPE including cloth face masks, medical masks, face shields, N95 masks, shoe covers and more.
- Daily screening and temperature checks of staff members as they arrive at work.
- Suspended in-person visitation.
- Sentinel testing for COVID-19.
The DOC also closely monitors offender movement into its secure facilities by requiring advance evaluation of all inmate transports by DOC Clinical Services staff in consultation with local and state health authorities. Offenders are screened before they leave their facility of origin and on arrival at DOC facilities. New arrivals are quarantined for 14 days and offered COVID-19 testing at intake. Transport of offenders will continue with limitations as deemed necessary.
Testing at DOC secure facilities is conducted on a weekly basis, and will continue for the foreseeable future, to identify cases and help direct resources most effectively.
Earlier this year, the DOC assisted the Montana Board of Pardons and Parole by identifying at-risk offenders for the board to consider for early release as instructed by Governor Steve Bullock in his April 1 directive. In that directive, related to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Montana’s prison facilities, he defined inmates who were at risk as being 65 or older; with medical conditions that make them high risk; who are pregnant; and nearing their release date. The governor also stipulated that releases may not pose a public safety risk, and that inmates must be able to receive medical care and meet supervision requirements in the community.
“We know this is a difficult time for inmates in our facilities, along with their family and friends,” Connie Winner, administrator of the DOC’s Clinical Services Division, said. “We want to assure everyone that the medical needs of our offender population will be met with professionalism and compassion.”
MSP, located in Deer Lodge, houses about 1,500 felony offenders and employs a staff of close to 700.
For COVID-19 information from the DOC, visit our website here: https://cor.mt.gov/COVID-19