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Corrections department officials said this week that they are using “extreme caution” and the advice of experts as they begin moving inmates around statewide facilities.

Speaking at a legislative committee hearing last week, Reginald Michael, director of the Department of Corrections, said Gov. Steve Bullock’s April directive to halt inmates coming to state correctional facilities “played a crucial role in keeping our staff and our inmates healthy and safe.” He said the department is cautiously bringing inmates to facilities and relying on advice from clinical staff, county health care professionals and the Department of Health and Human Safety.

Inmates coming to corrections department facilities are medically evaluated by the jail they are leaving and again when they arrive to the state-run location. Michael said the corrections department recently instituted a mandatory 14-day quarantine for new arrivals.

Groups of inmates who arrive together are quarantined with each other in a “cohort environment.” He said clinical staff may require inmates coming from hotspots to be quarantined alone.

All new arrivals are offered COVID-19 testing when they are booked into a facility.

“And because information related to mitigation of the risk of COVID-19 is ever changing, our processes for inmate movement are adapting with those changes,” Michael said.

He said the corrections department is using $1 million of COVID-19 relief money doled out through the governor’s office to buy equipment meant to prevent the spread of the virus. Michael said that included a whole room disinfectant machine, a standard disinfectant machine and cars that separate drivers from patients for moving inmates.

He said the corrections department has placed orders but is waiting to receive the equipment.

“We’re a bit frustrated that we can’t get the actual materials in and the systems to help us,” Michael said.

The news came from a Law and Justice Interim Committee held via videoconference Tuesday with Montana representatives. Michael and other corrections department officials talked about prohibiting in-person visitation, testing staff and inmates and medical screening happening at the state facilities.

Michael said the department has tested 190 inmates and 50 staff members. The results are pending. Michael said department officials are working on a plan to test offenders who are under the supervision of probation and parole officers.

He said testing is an ongoing process.

“It just doesn’t stop with one test,” Michael said. “It’ll be a process that will hopefully be repeated over time.”

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, asked Michael to clarify if the corrections department was trying to get back to business as usual regarding moving inmates. She also wanted to know how that played into inmates being eligible for early release.

Michael said the department is doing limited movement of inmates under controlled environments but that was not near what it was typically doing before the pandemic. He said the department doesn’t feel safe enough to go back to normal.

“Every time we move a body from one place to another in our prison system, we are taking a chance,” he said.

As for inmates eligible for early release, Michael said, that’s in the hands of the board of pardons and parole.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.