The Minnesota Department of Corrections has agreed it won’t try to force ACLU-MN clients who are at high risk from COVID-19 return to prison unless they violate the terms of their release.

As part of that agreement filed in Ramsey County District Court last Friday, the ACLU of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Law School's Clemency and Civil Rights Appellate Clinics, and Mitchell Hamline's Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners Clinic (LAMP) agreed to dismiss their lawsuit Wagner and Jones v. MNDOC.

MNDOC released 158 prisoners during the COVID emergency on “conditional medical release” (CMR) where their medical conditions put them at a high risk of “grave harm” from COVID. In August 2022, the Department decided the risk was over, and announced plans that it would reimprison those still on CMR, although they had been living safely and productively in the community since their release, in some cases, for years.

The ACLU-MN, U of M Clemency Clinic, and LAMP sued on August 12, 2022, to stop MNDOC from reimprisoning people who were released due to their high medical risk. In September of 2023, the state Court of Appeals ruled that MNDOC couldn’t force our clients back to prison while their lawsuit was pending.

The plaintiffs included people with chronic, life-threatening medical conditions and a woman who gave birth and had spent nearly two years bonding with her baby.

ACLU-MN staff attorney Dan Shulman said: “Our clients complied with all requirements of their release and changed their lives for the better. We're glad that MNDOC recognized this and has agreed to let our clients finish any remaining sentences in their communities, which serves the actual rehabilitative purposes of the department.”

JaneAnne Murray, Director of the University of Minnesota Law School’s Clemency Clinic adds: “Our clients thrived on release, building strong relationships with their families — in Ms. Wagner’s case, a deep bond with her now two-year-old daughter. We welcome the DOC’s humane decision to allow our clients continue their law-abiding lives in their communities.”