PORTLAND, Ore. --- Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has asked for a list of names by June 22 of inmates eligible for possible release to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the state prison system.
The request marks a turning point for the governor who has previously refused to release inmates in response to the pandemic and comes as Oregon faces a spike of coronavirus cases.
In the letter to the director of the DOC, Brown recognized the overwhelming challenge of enforcing social distancing in a prison setting.
The state Department of Corrections was asked to perform an analysis of inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus and meet the outlined criteria for possible commutation.
- Be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as identified by DOC medical staff.
- Not be serving a sentence for a person crime.
- Have served at least 50% of their sentence.
- Have a record of good conduct for the last 12 months.
- Have a suitable housing plan.
- Have their out-of-custody health care needs assessed and adequately addressed.
- Not present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community.
Inmates eligible for commutation will be required to take a COVID-19 test before being released. If a person shows symptoms or tests positive for the virus, they’ll be ineligible for released and immediately isolated. Once that person no longer shows symptoms and tests negative for the virus, they will again be eligible for early release, Brown said.
The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem has confirmed more than 100 inmates and several employees have tested positive for COVID-19. Three other prisons also have confirmed cases.
The Oregon Justice Resource Center said the governor’s decision is long overdue.
“Governor Brown has now recognized what we have been saying for months: COVID-19 poses a serious threat to the health of all who live and work in Oregon’s prisons. Prisons are not an environment where it is possible to achieve the physical distancing needed to reduce the spread of disease unless we reduce the number of people incarcerated,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the OJRC.