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Crime And Courts

Oregon lawmakers call for more inmate releases due to COVID-19 risk

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SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Leaders of the Oregon House and Senate judiciary committees released a multi-pronged “decompression” plan Monday to address the problem of COVID-19 in the state’s prisons, calling Gov. Kate Brown's plans to release some inmates a good "first step." 

The plan calls for the immediate release of adults in custody (AICs) who are considered to be at particular risk of severe consequences from COVID-19, as well as the release of individuals who are just a few months away from the end of their sentence and who have approved housing available upon their release.

The plan includes additional requirements that the Department of Corrections must meet in order to guarantee the safety of AICs, Corrections staff and the community at large.

The proposed plan follows actions taken by the federal government and a number of Oregon counties to reduce their incarcerated populations in order to prevent the worst consequences of COVID-19 outbreaks, the lawmakers said in a news release.

Chairs and members of the Senate and House committees on Judiciary, including Senator Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), Senator James I. Manning Jr. (D-Eugene), Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene), Representative Janelle Bynum (D-Happy Valley) and Representative Tawna Sanchez (D-Portland), presented the plan to Governor Brown and her public safety advisors on June 3rd.

A portion of the proposal – potential commutation of the sentences of at-risk AICs – was agreed to and announced by the governor in a communication to DOC on Friday.

Brown asked the department for a list of names by June 22 of inmates eligible for possible release, under certain criteria, to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the state prison system.

“We are very pleased with this as a first step,” said Representative Bynum, chair of the House Committee on Judiciary. “These are people with serious medical conditions, and the overly congested conditions of our prisons can be a death sentence for them. The appropriate humanitarian response would be to release them as soon as possible.”

“I commend the governor for taking this step,” said Senator Prozanski, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary. “But there’s more to be done.

"Due to COVID-19 and the upcoming budget shortfalls, we need to find intelligent ways to reduce the pressure on our prison system. DOC is doing the best that they can, but we can see from the Oregon State Penitentiary (where the largest COVID-19 outbreak among any workplace or congregate care setting in the state has occurred) that there are serious consequences when this disease takes off. We need a careful, long-range plan.”

“AICs have been reaching out to family and friends, asking to have their voices heard,” said Representative Sanchez, who previously served as chair of the House Committee on Judiciary. “There is fear for the most vulnerable incarcerated individuals, as well as tension that is developing from what is perceived as a lack of concern for the health and well-being of those who are serving out their sentences.”

“We know that our prison system is over-represented by people of color, which is the sad legacy of mass incarceration,” said Senator Manning, who serves as co-chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety and previously served as a police officer and corrections officer. “These are human beings, and they need to be treated with respect. If they’re within a few months of release, have served their time well, and there’s a place for them to go, we should be letting them transition to post-prison supervision.”

“This proposal was very carefully crafted by legislators,” said Senator Dembrow. “As the reopening process is underway across the state, it actually becomes more dangerous for those inside our facilities. There is significant risk of COVID-19 coming in to our state prisons from the outside, and that risk increases if we see a second wave of the disease in the fall. Careful, targeted reduction of the prison population, focusing on those who did not commit violent offenses, is a smart way to reduce the risk.”

The “Decompression Strategy for Oregon Corrections during the Pandemic” can be viewed here.

News / Oregon-Northwest

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Comments

18 Comments

      1. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. You’d be surprised how many will go right back out a commit more crimes if left unpunished. Humanity only goes so far.

      2. Population Of Norway 5.368 million. Their population is only twice that of the population of our prison system. You can’t compare the population of Norway with the population of 300 billion.

          1. The article does give you some more simple numbers: “…America jails 665 of every 100,000 residents, Norway’s rate is less than a tenth of that ― just 63 of every 100,000.” Looks like they can be compared!
            A side note: when discussing stay-at-home orders, many who oppose them cite Sweden’s approach, while their population is only 10m, compared to our nearly 330m.

            1. Did you know that the top10 safest cities in the USA almost all have a population makeup that is similar to that of Norway and similar crime rates. Yes…. That means similar black population of only 2-3%…. Hmmm maybe something that proves cultural differences and not necessarily “systemic racism”.

              1. Some quick Google searching, since you don’t like to cite your sources:
                -Norway: Norwegian 83.2% (includes about 60,000 Sami), other European 8.3%, other 8.5% (2017 est.) with a population of 5,295,619 (Jan, 2018)
                -Virginia Beach, VA (#1 safest US city, 2019) White or Caucasian: 67.7% (Non-Hispanic White: 64.5%), Black or African American: 19.6%, Native American: 0.4%, Asian: 6.1% (4.0% Filipino, 0.5% Chinese, 0.4% Indian, 0.4% Vietnamese, 0.3% Korean, 0.2% Japanese), Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.1%, Some other race: 2.0%
                -Honolulu, HI (#2 safest US city, 2019) 54.8% were Asian, 17.9% were White, 1.5% were Black or African American, 0.2% were American Indian or Alaska Native, 8.4% were Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 0.8% were from “some other race”, and 16.3% were from two or more races
                -Lexington, KY (#3 safest US city, 2019) 75.7% White, 14.5% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.2% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.21% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races

                Sorry for the inconsistent formatting, lots of copy/paste from Wikipedia pages. The point is that Mr. Blasr is again incorrect. C’mon man, you’re on unemployment, you should have the time to do your research!

      3. I don’t know if dementia Joe, would agree with how Norway has been reforming their prison system, at least if you look at his past record, of course like Joe, we can all forget his support for the 1994 crime bill that contributed to the imprisonment of so many.
        Why if it wasn’t for Joe, we might even have to be dealing with this problem.
        Their is one candidate for President who is helping to reform our prisons, can you guess who that is? Or do you want to ignore that also, as the CNN media type have done.

  1. Is there a Covid problem inside the prisons/jails? If there is not, and since all jails are doing a quarantine on new arrivals, what is the concern? If there is then apparently whoever votes for this are in favor of spreading the virus?

      1. Thanks. This article seems to reinforce my comment. I assume our local jail is not the only one with a positive pressure cell block that any and all sick inmates can be put into to protect the rest of the population. Keeping the inmate incarcerated until well at least would be better for the inmate – maybe not as good for us, the taxpaying public, though since we get to pay all their medical expenses while they are in – release them and they get to pay their own.

  2. Why don’t we release 75% of these “lawmakers” to save the spread of a virus that is infecting them greatly.
    Sure, lets defund the police and release prisoners en masse during a time of left wing riots, what could possibly go wrong?
    Ron White is right, “you cant fix stupid”.

  3. The biggest problem is that there is simply not enough space to separate inmates. Do you propose building additional units at tax payers expense to keep non violent offenders locked up?

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