A COVID-19 response bill signed into law this week includes provisions that would assist the Department of Corrections in preventing a COVID-19 outbreak in the state’s jails and prisons.
The bill includes the authority for the medical director of the Department of Corrections to make health care decisions for an individual under conditional medical release who lacks decision-making capacity and who has no health care directive or designated health care agent or that designated agent is unavailable to make a decision.
A conditional medical release is only given when an individual poses no threat to public safety and their condition is better treated in the community.
The bill is meant to be preventative for incarcerated individuals that contract COVID-19 and are placed in a community hospital. Not extending the authority places a burden on the doctors and hospitals in which these individuals are being placed.
The bill also includes the authority for the Department of Corrections to place people who are supposed to be sent to state prison to instead be sent to a county jail or corrections facility if the time left on the individual’s sentence is less than 90 days.
This is meant to help contain any potential COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons as it allows the department to keep individuals in county jails that haven’t seen COVID-19 cases.
Due to a backlog in the state’s court systems along with a systemic issue with an inability to make bail, by the time individuals are sentenced and given credit for time served at a county facility they often only have short durations left of their sentence. 500 newly committed individuals were sent to state prisons in 2019 with less than 90 days left of their sentence. Of those 500, 170 had less than 14 days left of their sentence.
Allowing individuals to be kept in county jails does not create a public safety issue – it is meant purely to assist in containing a COVID-19 outbreak in the prison system.
Senate DFLers recognize the risk factors of a COVID-19 outbreak in our corrections systems. There is a lot of movement in and out of our jails and prisons as incarcerated people filter through the system, visitors come and go, and the people who work in them, including our corrections officers, leave and return daily. Viruses have multiple entry points, and those that enter tend to spread quickly.
We are committed to reducing the possibility of an outbreak of COVID-19 in our corrections systems. The Department of Corrections has implemented a number of changes to reduce that risk, and we are committed to supporting the department and some of our most vulnerable constituents in reducing that risk and keeping individuals informed. (HF 4531)