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Coronavirus: Hennepin County to release some jailed suspects pending trial

There's a huge risk from coronavirus should it spread inside prisons and jails.

Hennepin County is taking the step of releasing accused suspects on bail as it tries to limit the potential for coronavirus entering the county jail.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced on Monday the "necessary next steps" to allow some accused suspects out of the county's "pre-charge detention facilities."

Those recommended for release on bail will be those accused of "less serious crimes" who are "not likely to be a threat to public safety."

"We are ... coordinating with the agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff Office, which actually house the accused who have not had their cases adjudicated, to see if there are individuals who could be released pending trial," Freeman said. "Our goal is to provide for public safety, for justice and to relieve some of the pressure on jail capacity."

“Our primary responsibility is public safety and providing justice for the victims of crimes in our county," Freeman said. 

"There are individuals who appear to have committed less serious crimes and are not likely to be threat to public safety. By the end of business today, or no later than Tuesday morning, the public defenders will present to us a list of potential individuals who would be eligible for a new bail hearing under those criteria. We will make arrangements for their release pending trial in appropriate cases."

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As the coronavirus spreads, there has been growing concern over the potential implications of the virus entering a contained facility like jails or prisons.

NPR reported this week that jails and prisons could become "incubators" for the disease, owing to the close proximity of inmates, poor ventilation, and security issues that require inmates be checked regularly.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections suspended visitors at its facilities last week, while local jails have also been banning face-to-face visits.

Stearns County Sheriff's Office announced changes to its jail in St. Cloud in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including canceling all outside programming for jail inmates, canceling all visiting hours, and also investigating the possibility of initial court hearings being conducted via closed-circuit television.

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