September 11, 2023 UPDATE: The state Department of Corrections cannot force some people who were released during the pandemic due to their risk from COVID to return to prison while their lawsuit remains pending, under a state appeals court ruling issued today.
The ACLU-MN, University of Minnesota Law School's Clemency Clinic and Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, and Mitchell Hamline's Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners Clinic represent the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who contend that the department did not adequately assess each person's risk, health or family situation before trying to reimprison these individuals.
The plaintiffs maintain that the process to revoke their release violated their constitutional right to due process and broke state law. They include individuals with chronic, life-threatening medical conditions and a woman who gave birth and has spent the past almost two years bonding with her baby.
The state Court of Appeals ruling prevents MNDOC from ordering the plaintiffs' return while this lawsuit is underway.
August 12, 2022 UPDATE: A Ramsey County District Judge granted a temporary restraining order in our case against MNDOC. This means that MNDOC cannot currently reincarcerate those who were granted conditional medical release (CMR) because of their high-risk for COVID-19.
The ACLU of Minnesota, U of M’s Law School Clemency Clinic, and Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners today filed a complaint to stop the Minnesota Department of Corrections from reimprisoning people who were released during the pandemic due to their high medical risk.
Of the 2,292 people who applied for conditional medical release (CMR), MNDOC only released a tiny fraction: 158 people. Now MNDOC plans to reincarcerate some of them in violation of their constitutional due process rights — without providing a hearing, considering their individual circumstances, or doing anything to prevent the harm that will occur from reimprisonment.
“MNDOC’s decision not only violates the constitutional due process rights of people being recalled to prison from conditional medical release, it’s also unnecessarily cruel, callous, and punitive,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney Dan Shulman. “This action runs contrary to the rehabilitative purpose of the department — our clients have complied with all requirements of their release and changed their lives for the better. Especially shocking are the separation of a mother in the crucial process of bonding with her infant, and the reimprisonment of people caring for ailing parents.”
Plaintiff Tanya Mae Walker gave birth in December and is now caring both for her baby and her mother, who suffers from brain damage. She’s also been helping others with addiction recovery. Plaintiff Dale Allen Jones, who has serious lung and heart issues, wouldn’t be able to get the open-heart surgery he’s scheduled for in two weeks. He is the caretaker for his elderly parents.
There’s been no determination that their medical conditions have improved or that they present any risk. In fact, both have fulfilled every CMR requirement, including home confinement, reporting, sobriety, and completing assigned programming.
“There is a wealth of research on the profound psychological impact of separating mothers from their young children,” said JaneAnne Murray, director of the University of Minnesota Clemency Clinic, which represents Tanya Wagner. “Ms. Wagner, through her extraordinary rehabilitation, does not deserve this sudden disruption of the eight-month bond she has built with her newborn. It is especially cruel and damaging to inflict this separation on an innocent baby.”
MNDOC’s justification for revoking medical release is the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Yet as of August 3, only 35% of MNDOC inmates were fully vaccinated and boosted, creating serious risk for people in prison. The department reports more than 100 active cases.
The complaint filed today seeks an order to stop MNDOC from ordering people on CMR back to prison during the legal case; a finding that MNDOC violated constitutional due process rights and state law; and a permanent order to make the department follow the Constitution and state law before revoking CMR for anyone.
The ACLU-MN, University Of Minnesota Law School Clemency Clinic, and Mitchell Hamline’s Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners filed the complaint in Ramsey County District Court. It’s on behalf of both named plaintiffs and others facing similar CMR revocation.
The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonpartisan, nonprofit that works to protect and promote the civil liberties of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying and community engagement.