The Minnesota Commissioner of Corrections is exploring ways to release felony-level prisoners from facilities across the state of Minnesota amid concerns over the spread of COVID-19 within prison populations.
A statement posted on the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) website on Wednesday said that the commissioner, Paul Schnell, is “actively considering how he can exercise [his] authority” to manage the population of incarcerated people to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Options being considered by the commissioner to reduce prison populations include granting medical release to some or work release status to those who qualify.
On Thursday, new unemployment numbers were reported which stated that nearly 150,000 Minnesotans have sought jobless benefits since the COVID-19 outbreak caused state and local officials to implement emergency declarations. At the same time, the US Dept. of Labor reported a record 3.3 million claims for unemployment for the week ending March 21.
Numerous businesses have been forced to close and others have voluntarily shuttered or limited their operations across the state over COVID-19 concerns. On Wednesday, Gov. Walz ordered many businesses to remain closed until at least May 1.
A request for comment submitted to the DOC inquiring where the commissioner envisioned felons placed on work release would gain employment in the current shutdown and unemployment climate went unanswered.
It’s already been reported that jails throughout the state have been releasing so-called “low-level” or “non-violent” inmates, and that arrests are being curtailed in many jurisdictions in an effort to slow the spread of the virus to incarcerated populations.
Last week that the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) sent a letter to state officials requesting that arrests be limited to only the “most serious” offenses.
This week, over five dozen ICE detainees being held in Sherburne County Jail filed a court petition demanding to be released on home monitoring over fears of being infected by COVID-19, according to a new report. Because the federal courts are operating at a limited capacity due to virus concerns, no court date to hear the petition has been scheduled.
As of Jan. 1, Minnesota’s total prison population was reported at just under 9,400 inmates, over 5,100 of which were incarcerated for violent offenses, weapons or criminal sexual conduct.
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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota