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St. Louis County Jail releases low-level inmates to prevent the spread of COVID-19

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DULUTH, MN -- The St. Louis County Jail is sending some low-level inmates home.

"Who is in our custody and do they really need to be there," said St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman.

That question is one that county probation officers, public defenders, prosecutors, and courts are asking in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

"The philosophy or strategy on whether or not an individual needs to be in custody is, do they create a danger to themselves or others, or is there also a chance that they might not appear at their next court appearance," Litman said.

Under that guideline inmates from the St. Louis County jail have been slowly released since mid-March, most of them awaiting trial.

Litman said the jail holds a maximum of 175 inmates, with 169 booked as of March 1st. But as of Wednesday, 110 inmates remained.

Those released are being monitored by their probation officer, or through electronic monitoring.

"We will do our best to keep not only the inmates safe and secure in our facility, but also the law enforcement agencies that frequent and bring these detainees in and equally if not, more importantly, making sure we are keeping the staff that works in the facility safe and healthy as well," Litman said.

He added that if or when the pandemic ends, inmates will stay released and not be rebooked to jail, as long as they don't violate their release conditions.

"I want to assure the public that we are not jeopardizing public safety by just opening the doors to dangerous criminals whether they be pre-trial detainees or not. More importantly, we are not releasing sentenced inmates. There is only one entity that can do that and that is the courts and judges themselves," said Litman.

He also mentioned that for family and friends of inmates social visits are no longer available. Inmates can now only call or text those that they want to speak with.

John Cardinale

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