The exterior wall and a guard tower at a prison.

Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

A preliminary report released this month by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission found some people released early from prison because of the COVID-19 pandemic were not more likely to commit crimes.

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Gov. Kate Brown commuted the sentences of 963 people during the COVID-19 pandemic between July 2020 and October 2021. The majority were considered medically vulnerable or near the end of their sentences.

The Criminal Justice Commission, a nonpartisan state agency, looked at the first 266 people granted a release between July and November of 2020.

The agency found 18% were arrested within one year of their commutation, 8% were convicted of a new crime and 2% were reincarcerated.

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CJC executive director Ken Sanchagrin said those numbers are similar to figures from 2019 involving people granted release or parole.

This chart comes from a March 2022 report by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. It compares recidivism rates from people who got out of prison in 2019 with those who were released in 2020 after their sentence was commuted by Gov. Kate Brown.

This chart comes from a March 2022 report by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. It compares recidivism rates from people who got out of prison in 2019 with those who were released in 2020 after their sentence was commuted by Gov. Kate Brown.

Oregon Criminal Justice Commission

“It doesn’t appear that being let out early for these folks had any type of negative impact as far as higher rates of recidivism that we would normally expect,” Sanchagrin told OPB.

Sanchagrin said his agency will issue another report sometime in the next year.

The report found of the commuted people who reoffended, 10 involved a crime against another person.

“Of these 10 individuals, the most common person crime was menacing, followed by recklessly endangering another person, assault in the fourth degree, and robbery in the second degree,” the report states. “There was one arrest for assaulting a public safety officer and one arrest for robbery in the first degree.”

The report also states one person who received a commutation was later convicted of and incarcerated for second degree manslaughter.

Brown has faced criticism, and a lawsuit, over the pandemic-related commutations. In January, two district attorneys in Oregon filed a complaint, alleging the governor went outside the bounds of her executive powers to issue the commutations.

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