DOC seeks to reincarcerate 3 inmates given COVID-19 release

Amid an ongoing legal battle, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) has trimmed the list of inmates granted conditional COVID-19 leave that it is seeking to reincarcerate.

During the pandemic, DOC created a COVID-19 protocol for its conditional medical release program that allowed inmates deemed to be at a “higher risk of grave harm from COVID-19” to receive early supervised release. However, the department decided to end the program and bring the 18 inmates on it back to prison earlier this year, citing the wide availability of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

The move prompted a lawsuit from the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of a couple of inmates and, in August, a Ramsey County judge temporarily stopped DOC from reincarcerating the 18 inmates still on COVID-19 release.

RELATED: Judge temporarily stops DOC from reincarcerating inmates given conditional release due to COVID

Wednesday, DOC said it will no longer rescind the leave of all 18 inmates. Instead, the department seeks to reincarcerate just three of the 18, although it is also referring a fourth for a hearing regarding a possible violation of release conditions. The department also told the judge that it will defer a decision on one other inmate because of ongoing surgical procedures.

With the changed position, DOC is asking the court to end the temporary restraining order against the department so it can reincarcerate those three individuals.

When asked about the decision on Thursday, a DOC spokesperson cited risk to the public as the reason for reincarcerating those three people.

“While we recognize the advocates representing the plaintiffs are doing their jobs for their clients, our priority must be the overall safety of Minnesota communities and those in our care and custody,” DOC spokesperson Nicholas Kimball told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. “We have sought to end COVID-19 conditional medical release for several months, but this lawsuit and restraining order have delayed our ability to do that. While we do not believe there is an immediate threat to the public, there is risk in further delay. We hope this process will make it possible to return to prison as soon as possible those individuals whose conduct has increased their risk to the public.”

The department also noted that Minnesota law allows DOC to assess changes in a person’s medical condition when they’re on release and determine whether the risk of them being on release outweighs any ongoing medical concerns. If so, the department can end the release.

As for the others that the department said it won’t try to reincarcerate, DOC said they’ve abided by the conditions of their release and many likely would’ve already been on supervised release if they’d been accepted into the department’s Challenge Incarceration Program instead of COVID-19 medical release. Some are also close to their mandatory supervised release dates, according to DOC.

The case is scheduled to have another hearing on Friday.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to representatives for the ACLU, who said they’re still examining the orders.