On Monday, Chief Justice Mike McGrath of the Montana Supreme Court sent a letter to judges throughout the state to consider which prisoners in their respective county jails could be released to lower the spread of the coronavirus.

Attorney General Tim Fox explained the request.

“McGrath sent a letter to the courts of limited jurisdiction, which are municipal, city and justice courts,” said Fox. “These are courts that deal with misdemeanor crimes and some deal with civil actions, as well. These are crimes such as petty theft or other offenses that may result in a small amount of jail time. His request, and it was not an order, to the courts of limited jurisdiction was for them to use their discretion to determine if there was anyone in the jail, not the Montana State Prison, who is not a violent offender or a risk to the public if released that might be released without bond considering the coronavirus situation.”

Fox said the reason for such a request was to reduce the overall population in the state’s many county and city jails.

“This does two things,” he said. “First, it creates smaller confined groups who could come into contact with one another and the jail staff or detention officers and that would help reduce the spread of the virus. Secondly, it would provide space in our jails for those violent offenders who really do need to be in jail. I think it was a wise move, but it’s entirely discretionary on the part of the local judges in our local, municipal and justice courts.”