PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Prisoners in both Oregon and Washington have reportedly staged protests over what they consider unsafe conditions due to the coronavirus.
On Thursday, a caravan of people demanding the distribution of personal protective equipment to prisoners staged a protest near the Columbia River Corrections Institution.
The group showed up at the Northeast Portland facility to honk for the prisoners inside. Organizer Lyn Neeley said they want to see the state release prisoners and provide them with masks and gloves.
Neeley said the situation is “fairly peaceful at this point” but expects more unrest nationwide if nothing changes in the weeks to come.
“The angers are raging not just in this facility but in prisons across the country,” Neeley said. “It’s like a powder keg because prisoners are so angry because they are being sentenced to death—they are being sentenced to death.”
The group said the prisoners at the Columbia River Corrections Institution staged a protest on Wednesday and tried to lock guards out of a section of the building for about three hours over fears of catching COVID-19.
In Washington, nearly 200 prisoners rioted at the Monroe Correctional Complex north of Seattle after test results showed six inmates tested positive for the coronavirus. One of the flashpoint involves crowded quarters where social distancing isn’t possible.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the state may set up RVs in the rec yard to help with social distancing. Staff members have also been trying to move prisoners but some have resisted.
“We are looking for reasonable things to do for some non-violent offenders,” Inslee said. “We have been trying to get some of the people who are more vulnerable, some of the older incarcerated individuals to go into isolated facilities so they can be less exposed to this virus and they have refused to go.”
Inslee said they’re also considering releasing non-violent drug offenders but want to have the proper plans in place first.
Meanwhile, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown may be considering similar steps. 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.”