Minnesota Legislature to weigh protections for jail inmates

Published 12:47 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2021

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ST. PAUL— The Minnesota Legislature will consider sweeping changes meant to provide better protections and medical care to jail inmates.

The legislation follows an investigative series by KARE-TV that revealed lax oversight at Minnesota’s jails despite dozens of deaths since 2015. Many of those cases saw inmates suffering needlessly after being denied basic medical care before they died, the station reported. In other cases, inmates killed themselves despite clear indications that they were suicidal.

“Has there been failures in the system? Absolutely. And that’s what we’re setting a course to fix,” said Paul Schnell, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

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The state agency, which licenses local jails, wants more authority to investigate jails and take swifter action should problems be found, including the ability to more quickly suspend and revoke a license. The department also wants to establish minimum medical and mental health care standards for inmates.

When an inmate dies, the agency also wants to establish review teams that would require independent health experts to determine if any failures happened and what changes could prevent similar incidents.

The legislation will get its first hearing Friday before the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee. Some of the statutes the department wants to rewrite have been on the books since 1905.