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As Wildfires Rage, Oregon Department of Corrections Evacuates Over 1,000 Female Inmates to Men’s Prison

“There are going to be major outbreaks of COVID with the way they're handling this and they know it.”

As the Riverside and Santiam wildfires continued to burn on Thursday, Oregon Department of Corrections evacuated 1,303 inmates—1,020 of whom are women—from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville to Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras.

ODOC declined to tell WW where the prisoners have been evacuated to, but three attorneys confirmed to WW that the inmates have been evacuated to Deer Ridge.

"The women have gone to Deer Ridge. That's clear. That's been confirmed," says Tara Herivel, a prisoner rights lawyer in Oregon.

However, Herivel added, there's a specific quarantine unit at Coffee Creek that treats COVID-19 patients from prisons statewide. It remains unclear, Herivel says, where those inmates have been sent.

"We don't know where they are or where they're being evacuated to," Herivel said of the quarantine unit.

Herivel says she and her colleagues have spoken to prisoners at Coffee Creek who described the facility as being filled with smoke to the point where inmates suffered nosebleeds, coughing fits and a general sense of panic.

"We're all freaked out," Herivel says. "There are going to be major outbreaks of COVID with the way they're handling this and they know it."

Two other prison rights lawyers, Juan Chavez and Laura Graser, confirmed to WW that Coffee Creek prisoners were evacuated to Deer Ridge Thursday.

Yesterday, ODOC evacuated 1,450 inmates from three different facilities to Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. Herivel says nearly doubling the prison population in one day led to chaos.

"We're hearing incredibly savage reports from there. There was a major riot yesterday," Herivel said, adding that she heard reports of the guards macing inmates. "It's a mess."

She said that inmates at OSP have said they weren't fed yesterday until 4 pm, and that some didn't receive their medications in a timely manner.

It remains unclear where ODOC will transfer prisoners should more evacuations take place.

Department of Corrections director Colette Peters said in a press release Thursday that the decision to evacuate was "in the best interest of safety and security."

"We are focused on the lives, health, and safety of our employees and the adults in our care and custody," Peters said. "In this unprecedented time, I have never been more proud to be part of the Oregon Department of Corrections. The planning, logistics, and effort needed to move thousands of people safely around the state has been heroic. My thoughts are with our employees, along with all Oregonians, who have been or will be negatively impacted. We will return to normal operations as soon as it is safe to do so."