The Legislature has set up the COVID-19 Minnesota fund, which allows state agencies flexibility in requesting the funds they need to combat the virus.
The Department of Corrections has received $2.255 million from this fund to assist in combating the virus in the state’s correctional facilities. Correctional facilities are often hotspots in a pandemic, as the population is more at risk, and it is difficult to follow all CDC recommendations to reduce the spread of a virus. Despite this challenge, the DOC is working to protect staff and incarcerated individuals.
The money will be used to pay for increased staffing needs, PPE for staff and incarcerated individuals, additional care units and washing stations, medical supplies and medication, indigent supply kits, and other COVID-19 related needs such as paying for video visiting as in-person visiting has been restricted and increased food costs as cafeterias have been closed.
There is urgency to getting these protections in place as Minnesota has seen a number of cases in its corrections facilities, and there are concerns from criminal justice advocates that not enough is being done to combat the virus.
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 commission of the Department of Corrections has also asked for legislation that would allow the department more flexibility in releasing physically vulnerable and non-violent individuals. Republicans have been reluctant to consider that legislation, but 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.