Oregon governor to release some inmates to slow virus spread

Coronavirus Prison

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has asked for a list names by June 22 of inmates eligible for possible release to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the state prison system.

The state Department of Corrections was asked to perform a “case-by-case analysis” of inmates who are vulnerable to the coronavirus and meet the outlined criteria for possible commutation, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

The criteria includes inmates who are particularly vulnerable, those who have not been convicted of a crime against another person and those who have served at least half of their sentences, department officials said. About 100 inmates were identified.

“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,” said Brown, a Democrat.

Studies show distancing is a challenge in prisons and jails because people live in close quarters.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

A 2018 study also shows Oregon has an aging prison population and houses the highest percentage of inmates over age 55 in the country.

The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem has confirmed more than 100 inmates and several employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the department said. Many inmates have refused testing for fear they will be transferred to an even more restrictive setting so the number of cases may be underrepresented.

Inmates would be required to take a COVID-19 test before release and anyone with symptoms or who has tested positive would be ineligible for release until they have recovered.

The Oregon District Attorneys Association said in a statement Friday that it has “significant public safety concerns about prison inmates being released prior to the completion of their sentences.”

Corrections Chief Colette Peters has said the department is working closely with “our community public safety and public health partners throughout this process to protect the public to the best of our ability.”

Three other prisons have confirmed cases, officials said. There were 25 cases at Shutter Creek Correctional Institution in North Bend, nine cases at Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem and one case at Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla.