PORTLAND NEEDS WILLAMETTE WEEK.
NOW WILLAMETTE WEEK NEEDS YOU.

The need for strong, independent local journalism
is more urgent than ever. Please support the city we
love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.

Gov. Kate Brown Commutes the Sentences of 57 Medically Vulnerable Inmates

The Oregon Justice Resource Center calls the release of 5 dozen inmates “inadequate.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday commuted the sentences of 57 people currently incarcerated in state prisons who have been deemed "medically vulnerable" to the COVID-19 virus.

On June 12, Brown instructed the Oregon Department of Corrections to create a list of inmates who meet certain criteria:

  • 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; and
  • Not present an unacceptable safety, security or compliance risk to the community.

ODOC presented Brown with a list of 61 inmates who meet those criteria. Of those 61, three were scheduled to be released within seven days anyway. The governor said in a press release that one inmate on the list was scheduled to be released in 2025, but "commutation at this time would be premature." The governor did not specify what exactly that means.

Yesterday, the Oregon Justice Resource Center said in a statement that the number of people whose sentences will be commuted is inadequate and just a small fraction of those vulnerable to COVID-19.

"While it is beneficial for these 61 people, the release of so few people will do almost nothing to increase the ability of incarcerated people to stay physically distant from one another," OJRC spokeswoman Alice Lundell said.  "In addition to meaningful action from the governor, we also need to see the [Parole] Board step up and use the powers it has to allow people who are medically vulnerable to the coronavirus to return to their communities where it is safe for them to do so."

Lundell called for three specific actions to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in prisons: People in custody must be able to safely access testing, testing rates must increase substantially from the current rate of about 5%, and prison populations must decrease significantly to properly maintain social distance.

"What Gov. Brown proposes to do to address the threat of COVID-19 to the health of people in prison is simply inadequate," Lundell said.

Back in April, ODOC had provided Brown a list of hundreds of incarcerees who were medically vulnerable. The new number represents a significant reduction to that initial list.