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Montana state prisons progressing through pandemic

Posted at 4:55 PM, Jun 07, 2021

This time last year was very challenging for a lot of people as in a sense, we were all on lock-down.

“Since then, obviously the numbers have been reduced," said Director of Department of Corrections, Brian Gootkin. "We had vaccinations, and we’re back to business as usual.”

It's back to business for the Montana Department of Corrections, which has had to navigate through COVID-19 like everyone else.

"We’ve reopened obviously," said Gootkin. "During the thick of the pandemic, especially probably around October, we had to shut things down. We had an outbreak going on. We had people that had to be quarantined, had to call the National Guard in.”

But a lot of progress has been made from then until now.

“Not only have we reopened visitations, but also programs and volunteers, so that’s huge for not only the inmates but also the people that want to help," Gootkin said.

Entire families can now be reconnected with visitations back open.

“Our women’s prison, for instance, they were the first ones to open back up," said Gootkin. "Those kids hadn’t seen their moms in over a year face to face. You know, they could Zoom, but we all know that’s not the same thing. So mental health, we knew that was a huge thing for not only the inmates but families and friends.”

As far as vaccinations go, DOC inmates have the choice. “It’s gone really well," said Gootkin. "Anyone that wants to be vaccinated can be vaccinated whether it’s officers, staff, or inmates. We’re hitting just about 50 percent if we’re lucky as far as both, and that’s about the national average.”

Starting the new position in January, during a pandemic wasn’t ideal but Director Gootkin says the show must go on.

“We still have a job to do, and we can’t stop doing our job, and so we really focus on making sure everyone is safe and secure," said Gootkin. "Public safety is number one no matter what, but we still have to operate, and that’s what we’re doing.”

For more information on visitation, you should call the individual state facility.