ACLU sues to release Moose Lake inmates due to COVID-19

Minnesota Correctional Facility - Moose Lake
Minnesota Correctional Facility - Moose Lake. A database from the Department of Corrections shows 12 inmates in Moose Lake are confirmed positive for the coronavirus and another 31 inmates are presumed positive.
Courtesy of Minnesota Department of Corrections file

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is suing to release inmates endangered by COVID-19 at Moose Lake prison in northern Minnesota.

The organization filed a petition Wednesday against the state Department of Corrections. According to the department’s database, 12 inmates in Moose Lake are confirmed positive for the coronavirus and another 31 inmates are presumed positive.

The ACLU-MN says at least 11 correctional staff reportedly also have COVID-19. ACLU attorney Dan Shulman said the lawsuit asks the state to appoint someone to help the Corrections Department increase testing and social distancing efforts.

“Basically we want a solution here and we want to help them in any way we can to do that but they have to do it because it is their legal duty and they just are not doing it,” Shulman said.

The petition alleges the prison is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to keep people in custody safe. The ACLU-MN alleges the prison is still holding as many as eight men in a cell and permitting unrestricted access to showers, communal phones, vending machines and other facilities.

The organization says there is no way for people in the prison to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The ACLU-MN is asking a court to immediately release inmates who are bringing the petition, and those like them, to safe locations where they can isolate and get medical treatment, if needed.

The Department of Corrections says it has received the lawsuit and is reviewing it. State Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell has said the release of some state prisoners because of the coronavirus could happen as early as this week.

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