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Releasing Inmates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Releasing Inmates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the spread of COVID-19 infections among inmates, Minnesota prisons are releasing non-violent prisoners to isolate at home.

COVID-19 Cases Rising in Minnesota Prisons

Minnesota prisons are experiencing a rise in COVID-19 cases among inmates. The Moose Lake facility and the Willow River facility have both seen a significant increase in the number of inmates who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Moose Lake is a medium-security prison located about 110 miles north of St. Paul. The facility can house more than 1,000 male inmates at full capacity. After completing 75 COVID-19 tests, results show 33 inmates tested positive, and another 31 inmates are presumed positive. Sick inmates showing signs of COVID-19 illness are currently being quarantined in a different part of the prison for two weeks.

In April after 35 inmates became ill, Moose Lake implemented a “Stay with Unit” plan which prevented inmates from intermingling with other inmates in different units, a common occurrence during meals, work duties, recreational activities, and educational services. In addition, masks and handwashing stations were provided to inmates.

Willow River is a minimum security boot camp located approximately 8 miles south of Moose Lake. At full capacity, the facility can hold 180 male inmates. After completing 66 COVID-19 tests, results show 46 inmates tested positive, and another 46 inmates are presumed positive at the Willow River facility.

In April, the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The lawsuit alleges that Moose Lake prison is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to keep inmates safe. The lawsuit alleges that the prison is still holding as many as eight men in a cell and permitting unrestricted access to vending machines, communal phones, and showers. As COVID-19 cases rise, Minneapolis criminal law attorneys may see a rise in COVID-19 lawsuits filed against Minnesota prisons.

With the current surge in COVID-19 infections across the country, the Minnesota Department of Corrections is making plans and taking actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the prison system. Commissioner Paul Schnell admits that it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed quickly, since prisons are not built to accommodate social distancing measures. When prisoners become sick, space has to be created to contain them and keep them away from other inmates. Commissioner Schnell says that COVID-19 infections are taking top priority, and as many as 25 non-violent inmates across the state may be released very soon.

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