Oregon Inmate Dies of COVID-19 Two Days Before Release

On December 9, 76-year-old Joseph Lawrence Jones, an inmate at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, died after testing positive for COVID-19 at a local hospital. He had two days remaining of his four-year prison sentence. 

19 other Oregon inmates have died after testing positive for the coronavirus. The most recent of which occurred on Dec. 18 when another inmate at Deer Ridge died. The prison, located in Madras, has 193 inmates and 31 staff who have tested positive. The facility is the site of the largest prison outbreak in the state and has 124 active cases.  

Of all the adults in custody in the state, 13% equaling 1,731 people have tested positive, as well as more than 470 staff members. 

Court records show Jones pleaded guilty to one count of assault for intentionally injuring another man with a firearm. According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, because this conviction constitutes a “people crime,” Jones was not eligible for a COVID-19 related commutation under Gov. Kate Brown’s standards for early release.  

“We are saddened by Mr. Jones’ death,” DOC spokeswoman Jennifer Black said in a statement to Willamette Week. “We take our mission of rehabilitation seriously and our goal is to release people back to our communities in good health and ready to be productive citizens. Oregon has one of the oldest incarcerated populations in the country, and we are constantly navigating how to best care for an aging population and prepare them for release.” 

Jones’ prior health is unknown, and Willamette Weekly could not locate family or friends. According to court records, his last listed address is in Lake Oswego.   

By: Hannah Ramsey