Gov. Brown asks for release of some prison inmates to slow virus spread

In the letter to the director of the DOC, Brown recognized the overwhelming challenge of enforcing social distancing in a prison setting.

Posted: Jun 15, 2020 10:20 AM
Updated: Jun 15, 2020 10:22 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown requested last week that the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) provide her with a list of current prison inmates that could be released from custody in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Brown has previously refused calls to release inmates in response to the pandemic — but Oregon has seen a rise in new cases, and particularly workplace outbreaks, as many counties began reopening over the past several weeks.

Since the outbreak began, the DOC has reported 174 inmate cases and 49 staff cases of COVID-19. Most of those have been at the maximum-security Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. At the last weekly report from the Oregon Health Authority, it remained the largest workplace outbreak in the state. One inmate died in custody last month after contracting the virus.

Most of these cases are now considered recovered, but at least 60 remain active.

In the letter DOC director Colette Peters, Brown acknowledged the ongoing challenge of enforcing social distancing in a prison setting.

"While DOC acted quickly to meet the threat presented by COVID-19, there are limits to the department’s ability to implement physical distancing in a correctional setting," Brown said. "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 asked that the DOC begin a "case-by-case" analysis of inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus and meet several criteria for possible commutation:

  • Be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as identified by DOC medical staff.
  • Not be serving a sentence for a person crime.
  • Have served at least 50% of their sentence.
  • Have a record of good conduct for the last 12 months.
  • Have a suitable housing plan.
  • Have their out-of-custody health care needs assessed and adequately addressed.
  • Not present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community.

An inmate listed as eligible for commutation will have to take a COVID-19 test before they are released. If they have symptoms or test positive for the virus, they'll be considered ineligible until they can be isolated.

"Once an adult in custody no longer shows symptoms and tests negative for COVID-19, they will resume eligibility for commutation," Brown's letter stated.


RELATED: Inmate at Oregon State Penitentiary dies after contracting COVID-19


The DOC will have to notify crime victims of an inmate's release if they are approved for commutation.

On Monday, Democrats in the Oregon legislature released a statement saying that the plan to release inmates stemmed from members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, and had been approved by the Governor earlier this month.

“We are very pleased with this as a first step,” said Representative Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, chair of the House Committee on Judiciary. “These are people with serious medical conditions, and the overly-congested conditions of our prisons can be a death sentence for them. The appropriate humanitarian response would be to release them as soon as possible.”

The Oregon Justice Resource Center said the governor’s decision is long overdue.

“Governor Brown has now recognized what we have been saying for months: COVID-19 poses a serious threat to the health of all who live and work in Oregon’s prisons. Prisons are not an environment where it is possible to achieve the physical distancing needed to reduce the spread of disease unless we reduce the number of people incarcerated,” said Bobbin Singh, executive director of the OJRC.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 133851

Reported Deaths: 1803
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah28467459
Washington18734171
Marion16247239
Clackamas11698138
Lane8353109
Jackson693085
Umatilla679368
Deschutes499936
Yamhill319045
Malheur313552
Linn311646
Polk245540
Klamath242838
Josephine174333
Benton170514
Jefferson170525
Douglas168743
Union111416
Wasco108123
Columbia104918
Lincoln99617
Hood River95421
Coos93815
Morrow93810
Clatsop6865
Crook62110
Baker5685
Tillamook3652
Curry3245
Lake2305
Grant2131
Harney1754
Wallowa963
Gilliam511
Sherman470
Wheeler201
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3055568

Reported Deaths: 34441
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles103280614122
San Bernardino2561091560
Riverside2504362645
San Diego2168352109
Orange2148082477
Santa Clara943661109
Kern86718565
Fresno82485968
Sacramento806781111
Alameda67952765
Ventura62101436
San Joaquin58290786
Contra Costa52965450
Stanislaus42882758
Tulare41867506
Monterey36126255
San Mateo32596309
San Francisco29321262
Solano25806106
Imperial25317465
Santa Barbara25083236
Merced24452308
Sonoma24068240
Kings19435145
Placer17380180
San Luis Obispo15929136
Madera13443151
Santa Cruz12298113
Marin11693157
Yolo10620131
Shasta9776122
Butte9474123
El Dorado782644
Sutter775478
Napa760140
Lassen519516
San Benito496343
Yuba495127
Tehama397142
Tuolumne338240
Nevada320673
Mendocino311432
Amador301631
Lake261230
Humboldt239324
Glenn193519
Colusa17339
Calaveras161723
Siskiyou144613
Mono11214
Inyo97429
Del Norte8662
Plumas5895
Modoc3853
Mariposa3464
Trinity3024
Sierra820
Alpine730
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
33° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 33°
Brookings
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 58° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 56°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 34° Lo: 15°
Feels Like: 33°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 33°
Klamath Falls
Clear
19° wxIcon
Hi: 42° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 19°
Clear and cold tonight
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events