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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Prisons across Minnesota have developed plans to deal with the spread of COVID-19.

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Two Minnesota correctional facilities now have confirmed cases of the virus. MCF-Moose Lake believes more than 20 inmates may have the disease. Now, an inmate at MCF-Willow River has also tested positive for the virus.

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The spread means the state is looking at ways to release some prisoners to allow for room to contain the virus. Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell says it’s a new challenge for the state’s 11 correctional facilities.

“Prisons were not built with social distancing in mind,” Schnell said.

Space will have to be created so that sick inmates are kept away from other inmates, correctional officers and staff.

“Being able to move people to different areas, to contain and stop spread, becomes so critical,” Schnell said.

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In Moose Lake, sick prisoners are quarantined in a different part of the prison for two weeks. But Schnell said as many 25 inmates across the state could be released this week — freeing prisoners in order to contain a virus.

On Sunday, an inmate at the Hennepin County Jail tested positive for COVID-19 and was released in order to self-isolate at home.

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“What we have done is identified those people that are within 90 days of their regular release, that are coming out to the community anyway, and have been non-violent offenses,” he said.

Inmates with a violent criminal history will not be considered. Schnell said an example may be an inmate serving time for a minor drug charge. A lot of criteria for release will be taken into consideration.

Minneapolis attorney Joe Tamburino believes releasing low-level prisoners is the right decision, but he doesn’t think it should end there.

“Does that person have a criminal history? Have they violated probation? Do they have warrants? And this is where the sausage is made in terms of determining whether or not to release someone,” Tamburino said. “That person should be followed at least to make sure, at least on paper, that they’re going to appear in court, they’re not going to go into warrant, they’re not going to re-offend.”

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Commissioner Schnell said that a number of prison inmates across the state have petitioned for release due to a medical condition. He said the state will review those, but violent offenders will not be considered for release.

John Lauritsen