57 Inmates’ Sentences to be Commuted Due to COVID-19 Concerns

On Thursday, June 25, Gov. Kate Brown announced she will be commuting the prison sentences of 57 individuals considered medically vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, stating that they “do not present an unacceptable public safety risk.”  

In total, almost 200 Oregon prison inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died from the illness, with the Oregon State Penitentiary being the state’s largest outbreak thus far.   

To determine which inmates could be considered for commuting sentences, Gov. Brown sent a list of criteria to Oregon’s Department of Corrections. 57 inmates qualified based on the following items. They: 

-Are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, as identified by DOC medical staff; 

-Are not 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;  

-Do not present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community.  

As soon as each of these inmates has a housing plan set and tests negative for the virus, the commutation can occur, with time remaining on their sentences being converted to post-prison supervision.   

57 inmates is a low number compared to the 2,000 Oregon lawmakers want Brown to consider releasing.   

Recently, there has been outcry by advocacy groups to better protect the state’s inmates from the virus, including considering the release of half its prison population and increasing testing.   

The counterargument to these requests comes from those concerned that letting inmates walk free will pose a public safety risk, despite the fact that some individuals in prison are dangerously vulnerable to COVID-19.   

Paige Clarkson, president of the Oregon District Attorneys Association, is among the concerned,  saying in a recent statement, Such actions undermine truth in sentencing, discounts the safety and security of victims who trusted in a sentence handed down by the court and erodes public confidence in a justice system’s accountability for felony lawbreakers.”  

By Cara Nixon