Brown mulling release of certain inmates from Oregon’s prisons to slow virus spread

Coronavirus

DOC says 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon's prison system

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is considering measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state’s prisons, which could include the release of certain inmates from those facilities.

There are 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon’s prison system, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections’ website, as of Thursday afternoon. That includes six staff members and six adults in custody.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed to KOIN 6 News Thursday that Brown asked the Department of Corrections what steps it could take to “further slow the spread of this disease while continuing to keep the public safe.”

Gov. Brown Interim Press Secretary Liz Merah said via email that the governor “requested data on adults in custody with underlying medical conditions, those over 60, and those with limited time left on their sentences.”

Last week Merah confirmed to KOIN 6 News that “Among other options, the Governor may consider use of her clemency powers” to fight the spread of the pandemic, but had not made a decision yet. Clemency is the ability of the governor to release prisoners under the Oregon constitution.

A class-action lawsuit was filed against Gov. Brown and Oregon DOC Monday on behalf of people imprisoned in four of the state’s detention centers. The lawsuit came after an online petition last week asked for the release of some prisoners to supervised parole, which has now gained almost 12,000 signatures.

Seven plaintiffs were represented in the Oregon Justice Resource Center lawsuit, which cited a failure to protect those in custody from COVID-19.

“This disease has the potential to wreak havoc in an environment such as a prison. People who live in Oregon’s prisons should not have to pay with their lives for the failure to take sensible steps to protect them,” said Juan Chavez, director and attorney for the Civil Rights Project at the OJRC, in a written statement.

According to DOC’s website, prisons with confirmed COVID-19 cases include the Santiam Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary, the latter of which also houses an inmate who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Oregon District Attorneys Association expressed concerns about the prospect of releasing early some of the inmates from Oregon’s prisons.

“During this crisis we must strike a balance between public health, public safety and justice. ODAA has significant public safety concerns about convicted criminals, many of whom are violent, being released prior to the completion of their sentence,” the organization said in a written statement to KOIN 6 News.

ODDA stated such actions would undermine “truth in sentencing” and discount the safety and security of victims.

The 10 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Oregon’s prisons are just some of the more than 1,300 cases tied to U.S. prisons and jails across the country, as well as over 30 deaths nationwide, according to The New York Times.

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