ACLU files lawsuit seeking release of some inmates from Moose Lake prison due to pandemic

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Corrections over its response to the coronavirus outbreak at Moose Lake Correctional Facility.

According to the ACLU, 12 prisoners have tested positive for the disease while 31 others are presumed to have contracted COVID-19.

At the same time, 11 staff members have also tested positive for COVID-19.

The ACLU claims that despite the outbreak, the prison is still holding as many as eight men in a single cell while allowing unrestricted access to showers, phones, and other facilities, and only recently closing its cafeteria.

The ACLU is accusing the prison of failing to fulfill its duty to keep people safe.

In the lawsuit, they are seeking the release of three inmates who are close to release already or have underlying conditions that put them at further risk. They are asking the courts to release other inmates like them as well.

"Prisoners tell us that people are jammed into cells with others who have symptoms of COVID-19, and the prison refuses to perform adequate testing," wrote ACLU-MN staff attorney Dan Shulman. "The prison and DOC have failed to take even rudimentary measures to prevent and stop the spread of COVID-19 at Moose Lake, endangering inmates, staff and the surrounding communities. Detention should not mean a death sentence.”

In a statement, the Department of Corrections said they agreed with some sentiments of the lawsuit, that the coronavirus pandemic had "created exceptional circumstances."

However, they say the department has worked closely with the state health department on its response, following CDC guidelines for correctional facilities.

“The agency continues efforts to implement early work and conditional medical release processes that fall within the parameters of current Minnesota law,” Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said. “Our work continues to make adjustments to conform longstanding correctional practices with their emphasis on public safety to meet the compelling public health and fast moving challenges that result from COVID-19.”