If Felicia Rose Reinke were a man, this might not be happening to her.

As a male jail inmate, Reinke would have served a one-year sentence in Dakota County and would probably be out by now through an early-release program.

Instead, the 25-year-old Rosemount woman, who gave birth in September, is caught in legal limbo between Dakota and Ramsey county jail authorities.

Starting in June, she was at the Ramsey County workhouse because Dakota, for monetary reasons, chooses to not house women in its county jail.

Because Reinke is not physically in Dakota County, she is considered ineligible for that jail's early-release programs, which normally take about a third of a sentence away. But, because Reinke is listed as a Dakota County inmate, Ramsey County maintains she also is not eligible for its early-release programs.

"It is a Catch-22 situation," said attorney Brad Colbert, who filed suit against both counties last month, alleging unequal treatment and violation of Reinke's 14th Amendment rights.

Exacerbating Reinke's anxiety is the fact that she was furloughed from the workhouse last month to give birth -- but now authorities want her to return to finish her sentence.

"I'm aware of the suit," said Dakota County Sheriff Dave Bellows. "We made a business decision awhile back ... to have our females at another location and make it an all-male jail."

Bellows said he could not comment much on the litigation because the suit is still pending. He did say, without elaboration, that he does not believe that Reinke was eligible for early release.

The Dakota County attorney's office, which represents the sheriff, declined to comment because the suit is ongoing. The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, also named in the lawsuit, said it was erroneously placed on the suit. Spokesman Randy Gustafson said the sheriff does not oversee the workhouse where Reinke was incarcerated. The Ramsey County attorney's office said last week that it will file a response to the suit in the next 10 days or so.

Reinke was sentenced by Dakota County Judge Edward Lynch on June 1 to a 27-month sentence with jail time amounting to one year. She was convicted of second-degree assault for stabbing her boyfriend during a domestic dispute.

"A male inmate housed in Dakota County can reduce his sentence significantly by participating" in early release, Colbert wrote in his lawsuit.

But because Dakota is among the counties in the state suffering from low jail populations, Reinke was sent to Ramsey County, where Dakota pays to have its female prisoners kept at a cost of about $500,000.

Dakota typically has up to 15 female inmates housed in other jurisdictions at a given time.

Bellows said it didn't make financial sense to open a wing in his jail, which would be designed for dozens of prisoners, for such a small number of female inmates.

"Our female numbers did not fill up a wing," he said.

In Ramsey County, inmates can serve the last 150 days of their sentence on supervised home monitoring, which would have allowed Reinke to be home to have her baby.

But Ramsey County refused, Colbert said, because Reinke is in the custody of Dakota County and therefore ineligible for home monitoring in the Ramsey County program.

"Defendants violate Ms. Reinke's constitutional right to equal protection ... through their actions and through the formulation and implementation of policies and practices," Colbert wrote in his suit.

Colbert, who is part of the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners group, said the issue could be resolved if either Dakota or Ramsey would simply agree to allow female prisoners to be eligible for early release or home monitoring programs -- if they qualify -- regardless of where they are housed.

No one is saying whether that attempt was made in Reinke's case, or what criteria were followed regarding the disposition of her sentence.

Bellows said he could not talk about the eligibility criteria for early release because it is a focus of the lawsuit.

"I think they [the counties] can do anything they want," Colbert said. "The discretion is with the counties. There isn't any reason why they can't let her go."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281