County jail inmate numbers down one-fourth in a week

Monday,

Efforts to release jail inmates who are not a danger to public safety cut the Hennepin County jail population by 26 percent in one week, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Monday.

As part of the effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Hennepin County Attorney’s Office prosecutors have been working to release individuals awaiting a court appearance and being held in jail  who have no record of violence and are charged with relatively minor felonies. The result is that the average daily population in the Hennepin County jail dropped from 815 last Monday to 602 on Friday morning, Freeman said.

Our first priority, while making these decisions, is community safety and the concerns of crime victims, Freeman said. Crime victims can contact the victim/witness line at 612-348-4003 with questions about their case.

The Juvenile Prosecution Division is undertaking the same type of review. Efforts over the past decade have significantly cut the number of youths in the county’s Juvenile Detention Center and the juvenile division is working with juvenile justice partners to ensure that only those youth who pose a public safety risk are detained, Freeman said.

The county attorney’s office also has been working with the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, which oversees the county workhouse for those who have been convicted of a crime and are spending up to a year there as part of their sentence. The two departments are working to move as many as possible into electronic home monitoring.

For instance, a significant number of inmates leave every morning to go to their jobs. They are required to return to the workhouse at night and sleep in a cell. It would make sense to fit them with an electronic bracelet so they could return home after work.

“If this virus is so serious that we are emptying government buildings, sports arenas and restaurants in order to halt the spread, it only makes sense to release people who are unlikely to pose a threat to the public,” Freeman said. “Taking these steps will protect the health of those working in the facilities, the health of the prisoners and ultimately, the health of all the residents in the county.”

However, nothing has changed in regard to people committing crimes. All police agencies are arresting people committing the crimes and the charging standards at the county attorney’s office are unchanged from what they were before the COVID-19 crisis, Freeman said. Moreover, as recently stated by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, prosecutors will be actively charging individuals who defraud others through coronavirus scams.