Oregon Inmate Dies of COVID-19 Two Days Before His Release

Joseph Jones died on a Wednesday. He would’ve been released that Friday.

Oregon State Penitentiary. (Leah Nash)

Joseph Lawrence Jones was scheduled to be released from Deer Ridge Correctional Institution on Friday, Dec. 11.

But Jones never finished his nearly four-year sentence for assault. He died at a local hospital on Dec. 9—two days before his scheduled release.

Jones had tested positive for COVID-19. He was 76.

Jones is one of 20 Oregon inmates to die after testing positive for the virus. The most recent COVID-related death, which occurred Dec. 18, was also of an inmate at Deer Ridge. At the prison, located in Madras, Ore., 193 inmates and 31 staff have tested positive for COVID. Deer Ridge is the site of the state's largest current prison outbreak, with 124 active cases.

In total, 1,731 of the state's 13,100 adults in custody—or 13%—have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. Over 470 staff have also tested positive.

Jones' prior health conditions are unknown. WW couldn't locate Jones' family or friends. His last listed address was in Lake Oswego, according to court records.

In 2017, Jones pleaded guilty to one count of assault for intentionally injuring another man with a firearm, court records show. That conviction constitutes a "person crime," which means Jones would not have qualified for a COVID-19-related commutation under Gov. Kate Brown's criteria for early release, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections.

The department issued a statement to WW regarding Jones' death.

"We are saddened by Mr. Jones' death," DOC spokeswoman Jennifer Black said. "We take our mission of rehabilitation seriously and our goal is to release people back to our communities in good health and ready to be productive citizens. Oregon has one of the oldest incarcerated populations in the country, and we are constantly navigating how to best care for an aging population and prepare them for release."

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