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MT corrections department didn't update COVID tracker for 3 months

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The Montana Department of Corrections in Helena.

The Montana Department of Corrections in Helena.

The Montana Department of Corrections' COVID-19 dashboard tallied no new cases for over three months late last year, even while testing revealed nearly 80 cases within the state's prison facilities. 

The Montana Department of Corrections website has a COVID-19 page that tracks positive cases among staff and inmates. One line on the page reads: "Charts are updated as new cases occur."

A Department of Corrections spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the dashboard had not been updated as new cases occurred, however.

Department spokesperson Carolynn Bright said in an email Thursday a "process issue" caused the update failure.

"We have corrected our process and it shouldn't be an issue in the future," Bright wrote.

On Wednesday, the Montana State News Bureau reported 99 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed among inmates and prison employees since Dec. 28. That figure was according to the department's COVID-19 dashboard, which reported 13 new cases among inmates at Montana State Prison on Dec. 28. The last time the chart was updated prior to that was Sept. 17, and additional cases that followed that update weren't reported until the end of December.

But the Department of Corrections on Thursday said those 13 cases among Montana State Prison inmates occurred between September and December. In total, testing confirmed 79 cases of COVID-19 among inmates and staff across four prison facilities in that time frame. After reconciling the three-month gap in reporting, the department's report shows 20 cases have been confirmed across the state's prison facilities since Dec. 28. 

In December, the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit advocating against mass incarceration, issued a report noting several states that had failed to regularly update their COVID-19 data, including Florida, New Jersey, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Utah, Mississippi, Alaska and Montana. 

"Publicly available and regularly updated COVID-19 prison data — including vaccination and booster data — are crucial for holding public officials, politicians, and legislatures accountable, as well as for helping families and the general public obtain even the simplest information about COVID-19 in their loved ones’ facilities and local communities," the report states.

Inmates in Montana prisons began receiving booster shots for COVID-19 in late December, the Daily Montanan reported. The vaccination rate among inmates is roughly 60%, compared to 53% of the eligible population statewide.


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