Police group backs Cascade County judge over prisoner transfers

Police group backs Cascade County judge over prisoner transfers

Cascade County Jail

The Cascade County Jail is pictured here March 1.

The statewide sheriffs and police association is backing a Cascade County judge who was sued by the state Corrections Department last month over a dispute involving the transfer of prisoners during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Montana Department of Corrections petitioned the state Supreme Court in April to halt District Court Judge Elizabeth Best's order for eight inmates who had been sentenced to DOC custody be delivered to the department's correctional facilities. On Thursday, the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association submitted for and was granted permission to submit its own brief in support of Best, sharing the argument that the Department of Corrections did not have the authority to suspend transfers of inmates across the state.

The law enforcement association and Best argue the move disregards the health and safety of inmates and detention officers at the county level, where facilities are historically overcrowded. In her response, filed April 29, the judge said the DOC's measure, intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in state prison facilities, is simply a continuation of a long-standing use of the county jail there as a "holding pen."

"It is not 'temporarily' using the (Cascade County Detention Center), but rather systematically warehousing human beings who need treatment in an overcrowded county facility," Best wrote.

The Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association said inĀ its filing last week that this case will have implications for law enforcement in every county if the high court grants the Department of Corrections the ability to hold inmates indefinitely in local facilities.

The Department of Corrections has so far reported five confirmed cases of COVID-19 among staff and people in DOC custody.

The law enforcement association said it would file its amicus brief by May 14, the same day the Cascade County Attorney's Office, also a respondent in the petition, files its response to the corrections department.

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