Department of Corrections responds to COVID-19

The Senate Judiciary Committee met this week to hear from the Department of Corrections about their pandemic response. Incarcerated populations have seen a higher impact from this virus because of the nature of the congregated living facilities and the coming and going of prison staff, so the Department’s response has been critical in keeping all Minnesotans safe.

The department looked at COVID-19 release programs, including work release and conditional medical release, to reduce the state’s prison population. Reducing the population in the state’s prison system allowed for greater social distancing and reduced the number of individuals that might come in contact with an individual with COVID. All those released were considered low-risk and received supervision in their communities.

Mitigation and response plans are also in place for individuals that contract COVID-19 or come in close contact with a contagious person. Department staff is being screened before each shift for COVID-19 symptoms before entering any of the facilities, district field offices, and the central office.

All medical co-pays for incarcerated individuals have been waived to encourage reporting of symptoms, and there are plans for medical isolation and non-punitive quarantine for incarcerated individuals that have had close contact with an infectious person.

However, the corrections system is a congregate living situation and COVID-19 is easily spread. This is why Minnesota’s Department of Health has allocated around 400 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to treat the state’s highest-risk individuals in incarceration as part of the COVID management plan.

Over half of the roughly 7,000 individuals incarcerated in the state’s prison system have contracted COVID-19, and nine individuals have died. It is important that while supplies are limited vaccinations reach those facing the highest risks of contracting COVID-19 or facing severe illness as a result of contracting it. This includes Minnesota’s incarcerated individuals, many of whom are high-risk.

More information about COVID-19 in the state’s corrections system can be found on the department’s dashboard here.