Oregon attorneys are currently unable to get ahold of their clients at the Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), located near Ontario, where more than 3,100 inmates are under quarantine due to a COVID-19 outbreak inside the prison. SRCI’s capacity is 3,050.
With a couple more thousand under lockdown due to an outbreak at the Oregon State Penitentiary, a total of 5,400 inmates – about one-third of the state’s prison population – are now unable to leave their cells due to the pandemic, leaving many with upcoming hearings unable to speak with their lawyers.
Department of Corrections spokeswoman Betty Bernt said that adults in custody have access to contact attorneys via a telephone in their unit – however, some attorneys have argued that they have been unable to reach their clients by phone.
One attorney, Tara Herviel, who represents clients in post-conviction review trials and habeas corpus petitions, said that when she contacted the prison, she was told that no legal calls would be allowed until July 11 at the earliest due to the prisoners being in quarantine.
“As counsel, we must have access to our clients and are being deprived by [the Oregon Department of Corrections] and the [Department of Justice], who endorse this lack of access consistently,” Herviel asserted.
Professor Aliza Kaplan from the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, who represents some clients in the DOC’s custody, stated, “Even if the prison is on lockdown due to the virus, DOC must come up with ways during this pandemic to allow attorneys to speak with their clients with few limitations.”
As of July 4, 180 Oregon inmates and 59 staff have tested positive for COVID-19, with one fatality which occurred in May.
By Cara Nixon