A number of criminal justice stakeholders, including the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, Justice Action Network, the Second Chance Coalition, Catholic Conference, and others have sent a letter to Governor Walz asking him to protect some of the state’s most vulnerable to COVID-19: those incarcerated in the state’s correctional facilities.
Correctional facilities are often hotspots in a pandemic, as populations are more at risk, and it is difficult to follow all CDC recommendations to reduce the spread of a virus.
The letter included requests to transfer non-violent offenders to home confinement, releasing individuals that are being held on technical probation violations, providing adequate PPE and cleaning supplies for incarcerated individuals, staff, and facilities, daily health checks, and more. Some of these requests are already happening, and the Department of Corrections is working to mitigate cases in the corrections systems.
One of the best ways to combat COVID-19 in the corrections system is to reduce the overall population of those in the system through reducing admissions and releasing individuals in both county and state and federal systems. Many county jails have been releasing low-risk, non-violent offenders with limited time left on their sentences and have been finding other ways to reduce the jail population.
The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections has also asked for legislation to allow the department more flexibility in releasing the physically vulnerable and non-violent individuals from state prisons. Senate Republicans have refused to consider the legislation. Unfortunately, it takes time to transition people, and waiting for more cases to appear, as they absolutely will, will cost lives.
All Minnesotans deserve to be safe right now, especially in areas where COVID-19 is more likely to spread or with individuals at a higher risk of complications due to the virus. This is especially true in the corrections system, and Senate DFLers are working to take care of these individuals.