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Law and Justice

Oregon Governor Commutes Sentences Of 57 Inmates Vulnerable To COVID-19

Special housing cells at an Oregon Department of Corrections prison.
Special housing cells at an Oregon Department of Corrections prison.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will commute the sentences of 57 prison inmates who she says are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.


The announcement comes four months into the state's response to the global pandemic. 

“I received a list of 61 adults in custody from the Department of Corrections for consideration of commutation," Brown said in a statement. "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."

Three of the inmates Brown denied are set to be released in the next week anyway. Another was set to be released in 2025, and the governor decided not to commute at this time.

Not only are the listed people in custody vulnerable to the virus, but all have served at least half of their sentences and they are not convicted of a person crime. They all have housing and access to health care, according to the governor's office.

In April, Brown announced she would not release large groups of people early over concerns about COVID-19. The Department of Corrections presented Brown with numbers showing she would need to release around 5,800 inmates to create enough social distancing inside its facilities to significantly reduce risk. That equates to roughly 40% of the state's prison population. 

As of Tuesday, 175 people in custody have tested positive for the coronavirus, as have at least 51 staff members. One inmate has died from COVID-19. 

Many of the inmates who were sickened have since recovered, according to DOC.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center wants DOC to do still more to slow the spread of COVID-19. This spring, it lead a lawsuit to force the release of inmates from the state's prisons to slow the spread of the virus.

“What Gov. Brown proposes to do to address the threat of COVID-19 to the health of people in prison is simply inadequate," said OJRC's Alice Lundell. "While it is beneficial for these 57 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."

The state's prosecutors, who had raised concerns early on about large-scale releases, thanked Brown for working with them to review the list before issuing the commutations.

"We appreciate the thoughtful and intentional approach now taken by Governor Brown and Oregon DOC as to the potential commutation of medically fragile inmates," Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said in a statement.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting