Oregon Inmates Transferred Due to Wildfires, Potentially Exposed to COVID

Over the past week, inmates from four different Oregon prisons have been moved due to their facilities’ proximity to wildfires, as reported by Oregon Live. Approximately 200 inmates held a peaceful protest on Friday, Sept. 11 at minimum-security Deer Mountain Correctional Institution saying that the air quality in their housing was unhealthy, that they hadn’t had access to telephones, and that some evacuee inmates hadn’t been fed or given medications in over 24 hours.  

Correction system spokesperson Jennifer Black told Oregon Live, “During an emergency, operations do not run as smoothly as normal.” She added that a crisis team had arrived and that the peaceful protest had been ended with no use of force. Although 12 inmates were unwilling to go back into their housing units, and were therefore “placed in special housing and transferred to another institute.”  

Black went on to say that while food and medication schedules had been modified, both were available to inmates. She also said that as the housing unit in which prisoners were transferred to hadn’t been in use, the telephones were not yet set up. Black made no comment about the air quality.  

Inmates from Mill Creek, Santiam, and Oregon State Correctional Institutions were transferred to the Oregon State Penitentiary early last week. Mill Creek and Santiam have been deemed safe and prisoners have been returned to those facilities.   

Additionally, transferred inmates may have been exposed to COVID-19 during this process, leaving public defenders busy filing complaints that may be issued against the Oregon Department of Corrections. Public defender Tara Herivel told Oregon Live that she has sent multiple emails “calling for immediate action to protect prisoners and to prevent the spread of the virus in unsafe conditions.”  

Herivel has also reported that prison guards have not been wearing masks – noting that inmates in medium to minimum security systems are often “medically vulnerable or elderly.”  

Sally K Lehman