Inmates, families worry about lack of social distancing at Shutter Creek

As of Tuesday, two staff members have tested positive for coronavirus as well as 13 inmates.

Posted: Apr 29, 2020 7:36 PM

EUGENE, Ore.-- Inmates and their families say they are concerned by a lack of social distancing at the Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend.

As of Tuesday, two staff members have tested positive for coronavirus and 13 inmates have too. 

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, the entire Shutter Creek facility is in quarantine, meaning inmates are only being transferred for life-saving measures. 

Families of some inmates said that they have doubts that officials took appropriate steps to protect the inmates. Some report that bunks in large dormitories were just three feet apart and that not enough hygiene supplies are available.

Kaylyn's partner is inside Shutter Creek and has asthma. She asked that her last name not be shared out of fear of retaliation inside the facility.

"My partner was like, 'The guards are coughing, I'm really scared of this COVID stuff,'" she said. "I'm really scared because we have these plans for the future. Starting a family, getting married in January. And so there's this fear that I may never see this person again."

The ACLU of Oregon said that social distancing measures are largely impossible inside the state's prisons at their current capacity.

"Our prison officials have a constitutional obligation to protect people from the risk of harm, including the risk of death. This is a very serious virus and we have yet to see a plan put in place to safely house people," said interim legal director Kelly Simon. 

Even the DOC acknowledges on their website that their facilities are not built for social distancing. While they have increased cleanings and implemented social distancing where possible, dormitories do not have six feet of distance between bunks. However, inmates report that symptomatic patients are held in a different dormitory.

Though Gov. Kate Brown backed off on the idea of releasing some inmates early, the ACLU said it could be a reasonable solution at minimum-security facilities like Shutter Creek, where many inmates are nearing the end of their sentences.

"A significant number of people who are being infected are close to their release dates. What public safety benefit are we getting by keeping these people incarcerated in congregate living situations we know are unsafe?" said Simon.

The ACLU has filed public records requests with state officials to learn if they knew how coronavirus could impact prisons and if they failed to take this information into account.

These are questions Kaylyn would like answers to. 

"If we really took a look case by case, there's the potential that some people don't need to be there," she said. 

KEZI 9 News reached out to the Department of Corrections for comment on this story but did not receive a reply.

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