BISMARCK — More than 50 prisoners in North Dakota, including three convicted of sexual assault, will be released on parole early so state facilities can make space amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The state parole board approved during a special meeting Friday, March 20, the release of 56 prisoners as part of a population mitigation plan, according to a spreadsheet obtained by Forum News Service showing who is being released when. The board announced plans this week to bump up meetings with 60 inmates who were scheduled to have parole hearings in the next 90 days.

The North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stopped accepting new inmates through Monday, March 23. The prisons needed to reduce the number of prisoners in facilities so staff could separate sick inmates from other inmates, DOCR spokeswoman Kayli Richards said in an email. In working with the parole board, DOCR is trying to be proactive in lessening the impact of coronavirus, she said.

Some inmates considered Friday for parole were among a more vulnerable population at risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, Richards said. "Knowing that COVID-19 will eventually reach our facilities is a reality, and we are making our best efforts to protect those in our care," she said.

The now-approved parolees mostly committed nonviolent crimes, according to a Forum analysis of court records. The most serious crime was sexual assault, committed by three of the paroled inmates.

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One of the three, Delmar Dale Titus, 22, of Lodi, Calif., pleaded guilty in November 2017 in Dickey County District Court to two Class A felonies of gross sexual imposition (GSI) and was scheduled to be released May 15 from the Missouri River Correctional Center in Bismarck. That date was moved up to April 10 because of Friday's hearing.

The other two, Barry Lynn Roe, 62, of Jamestown, N.D., and Marc David Hinrich, 60, of Carson, N.D., are both serving GSI sentences at the James River Correctional Center in Jamestown. Hinrich pleaded guilty in July 2017 in Grant County District Court to one Class A felony of GSI and was scheduled to be released in July. That has been moved up to April 7.

Roe pleaded guilty in October 2013 in Morton County District Court to two GSI felony counts after admitting to inappropriately touching two children under the age of 12, according to a Bismarck Tribune article. He was slated to be released in August 2013 but will get out Thursday, March 26.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Dakota praised the parole board in a statement for its decision to reduce the prison population in response to the spreading coronavirus. The organization asked North Dakota leaders in a Wednesday, March 18, letter to reduce the number of inmates in prisons and jails in an effort to protect them from coronavirus.

That included a call to the parole board to “expedite and expand release opportunities,” North Dakota ACLU Advocacy Director Dane DeKrey said in Wednesday’s statement.

“Health experts recommend maintaining personal hygiene and avoiding crowded spaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19, actions that can be hard to do in detention facilities that house hundreds of people,” DeKrey said. “By releasing people who have served their minimum sentence and have been determined to be low-risk, the North Dakota Parole Board is taking a significant step in ensuring the health and safety of incarcerated people, medical staff, correctional officers and the community at large.”

Of the 60 inmates considered, the board denied parole for three inmates and took no action on a fourth one. About two-thirds of the releases will happen this month, with the earliest inmate going on parole Wednesday, March 25, according to the spreadsheet.

Others will be released in April, though one inmate may have to wait until June 29 to be released to Texas.

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