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Public defender wants jail inmates released due to COVID-19

Associated Press

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The State Public Defender’s Office is pushing for the release of jail inmates across Minnesota to protect them from the spread of the coronavirus.

Chief Public Defender Bill Ward sent an email to staffers Sunday asking them to get on board and demand that their clients be released.

“It is up to us to push this on behalf of our clients — no one is going to do it but us,” Ward wrote.

He calls the jails a “petri dish” of infection.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks.

The Star Tribune says the plea comes just days after an announcement that the courts will be postponing some cases, but not those that are high priority.

The Minnesota federal court system will implement broader measures, temporarily suspending all criminal and civil trials starting March 23 through April 27.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said he’ll entertain the release of low-level offenders and plans to evaluate the jail roster this week.

“Violent criminals are going to be held to account, in jail where I can keep us safe,” said Orput, adding that he’ll consider each case with public safety in mind.

Inmates booked on nonviolent possession charges or someone who shoplifted from Kohl’s isn’t meant to be held on high bail, he said.

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