The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and 34 other nonprofit and social justice organizations released a draft Executive Order Wednesday that we urge Gov. Walz to sign to stop the COVID-19 outbreak in prisons and jails.
“COVID-19 already is spreading like wildfire in the Minnesota Correctional Facilities in Moose Lake and Willow River, endangering inmates, staff and surrounding communities,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson. “The close and crowded quarters associated with jails and prisons make containment impossible. We know from public health officials that the only way to prevent COVID cases from overwhelming jails and prisons — and local hospitals — is to thoughtfully decrease the incarcerated population to allow social distancing. This will help keep prisoners, staff and communities safe.”
Those who are incarcerated disproportionately include Black, Indigenous and other people of color and those at increased risk of dying from COVID-19. Detention should not be a death sentence.
The ACLU-MN and 34 other organizations are asking Gov. Walz to order the Department of Corrections to immediately identify and release people to home confinement during the outbreak if they have a safe place to go and would not present an immediate and direct threat to public safety. To qualify, people would have to meet at least one of these conditions:
1) Be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to being 55 or older or having conditions including chronic respiratory disease, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, asthma or being immunocompromised.
2) Have less than a year left on their sentences.
3) Be in custody for technical violations of probation or supervised release, not a new offense.
The order requires similar action by jails and juvenile facilities. It would prohibit state law enforcement from arresting people on misdemeanors or failure to appear in court. It also would require officers to respond to alleged felonies with warnings and citations rather than arrests unless necessary to prevent imminent risk of bodily harm. It also encourages local jails to release people held on immigration detainers, and to suspend contracts with ICE.
The ACLU-MN previously called upon state officials in a March 17 letter to take urgent action to protect vulnerable populations in our jails, prisons and the entire state.
Groups asking the Governor to sign the Executive Order include: the Minneapolis NAACP, Voices for Racial Justice, Isaiah, Jewish Community Action, Take Action, Release MN 8, ICOM, MN Second Chance Coalition, Minnesota Freedom Fund, We Rise, Black Immigrant Collective, CAIR, FIRM, Women’s March Minnesota, Legal Rights Center, Black Visions Collective, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, Communities United Against Police Brutality, the National Lawyers Guild local chapters, the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ, Minnesota Council of Churches, Sanctuary and Resistance to Injustice, Social Justice Committee of the Lyndale United Church of Christ, Asian American Organizing Project, Unidos/Navigate, SMRLS, Convivencia Hispana, MIRAC, MN Educators Against ICE and Mankato UCC.
The ACLU-MN is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org.