Oregon Gov. Kate Brown is preparing to release medically vulnerable inmates as the number of incarcerated individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus climbs to more than 160.
Brown on Friday sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Corrections director noting that inmates who meet certain criteria will have the remainder of their term commuted.
“Given what we now know about the disease and its pervasiveness in our communities, it is appropriate to release individuals who face significant health challenges should they contract COVID-19,” Brown wrote in a letter to Colette Peters, the director of DOC.
The governor outlined criteria, including:
- Inmates must be identified by DOC medical staff as particularly vulnerable.
- Their sentence cannot be for committing a crime against another individual.
- They must have served 50% of their sentence, have a suitable housing plan, have a good record of conduct for the last year and not present a risk to the community.
The governor asked the DOC to provide a “case-by-case” analysis of medically vulnerable inmates and provide her office with a list of eligible adults by June 22. The eligible individuals must then take a COVID-19 test before release. If they test positive, they must be isolated rather than released until they are better, according to the letter.
The DOC expects about 100 inmates could fit the criteria outlined by the governor and potentially be eligible for early release, according to the governor's office.
The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem has one of the state’s largest outbreaks — with 139 positive cases and 36 staff members who have tested positive.
"During this continuing COVID crisis we must strike a balance between public health, public safety and justice. The Oregon District Attorneys Association has significant public safety concerns about prison inmates being released prior to the completion of their sentences. Such actions undermine truth in sentencing, discounts the safety and security of victims who trusted in a sentence handed down by the court and erodes public confidence in a justice system's accountability for felony lawbreakers.
A group of inmates filed a lawsuit against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the leaders of the Department of Corrections. The inmates have been diagnosed with asthma, are HIV positive or are elderly. They argued the Department of Corrections has only taken "half-measures" to stop the spread of COVID-19 and has "willfully and wantonly ignored the public health threat caused by this global pandemic."
Bobbin Singh, with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, who is behind the lawsuit, said the decision was overdue.
Oregon has one of the oldest prison populations in the nation.