PORTLAND, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown announced on Thursday that she has commuted the prison sentences of 57 "medically vulnerable" inmates in the state corrections system due to the ongoing spread of coronavirus.
Brown requested earlier this month that the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) provide her with a list of prison inmates who might be eligible for release from custody and could be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
“I received a list of 61 adults in custody from the Department of Corrections for consideration of commutation," Brown said. "I have authorized the commutation process to begin for 57 of those individuals, all of whom are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and who do not present an unacceptable public safety risk. I would like to thank Director Peters and her team for their diligence in completing their case-by-case analysis."
Eligible inmates had to be identified as particularly vulnerable to coronavirus based on DOC medical staff assessments, could not be serving a sentence for a "person crime," must have served at least 50 percent of their sentence, must have a record of good conduct over the past year, must have options for housing and health care needs, and must not present a major risk to the community.
According to Brown's office, three of the people suggested by the DOC were not offered a commutation because they were already scheduled for release within the next seven days. Another inmate was not scheduled for release until 2025, and the Governor decided that a commutation would be "premature."
Only 13 of the approved inmates already have housing and health care plans in place for their release, and will only need to be tested for coronavirus before their release. The other inmates will be eligible for release once their release plans are in place and they have tested negative for the virus.
Despite the commutation, the inmates will still be subject to post-prison supervision — and the remaining time that they would have otherwise spent in prison will be added to the length of that supervision.
"PPS typically requires released individuals to meet a number of conditions, including regularly checking in with their parole officer, participating in substance abuse and mental health evaluations, and not possessing any firearms," Brown's office said. "Individuals who violate the terms of their PPS are subject to sanctions, including a return to prison and revocation of their commutation."
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton, issued a statement on Thursday afternoon indicating opposition to the commutations that Brown and Democratic lawmakers approved.
“The Governor’s decision outlines a disturbing trend that she has created in the Oregon criminal justice system to earn political points," Girod said. "The early release of inmates now coupled with the 2019 bill that narrowed the use of the death penalty and changed sentences for the most serious murder crimes, are both policies that favor offenders and excuses their violent choices."
Girod also implied that only a few of the inmates would be released with housing plans in place while the rest would be turned out "on the streets," although Brown's plan stipulated that all inmates must have housing arrangements made prior to release.