Oregon Shuttering Death Row, But Not Capital Punishment

On Friday, the Oregon Department of Corrections announced they are eliminating the death row area in the state’s prison system. The death penalty still stands in a more limited way and the change doesn’t affect the current sentences.  

On May 12, the State of Oregon announced cuts to the statewide budget. According to the department’s website, the “reduction target for DOC is in excess of $147 million through June 2021.” Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that shuttering Death Row saves a little less than $200,000.   

DOC Director Colette Peters told OPB: “This really is an operational decision, in line with some of the humanity and normalcy work that we’ve been doing, as we look at reducing the use of segregation,” Peters said. “Truly, we believe there are a handful of those individuals that can safely be housed in general population.”  

In 2016 a nonprofit organization, the Vera Institute of Justice, made a recommendation that Oregon DOC shutters its death row. They suggested incorporating inmates with death sentences within the populations in the state’s other maximum-security prisons.   

Currently, there are 29 inmates in DOC custody who have been sentenced to death, according to the DOC. One of which was convicted in Benton County.  

The inmates are segregated from the general population in single cells. They are classified at the maxim custody level of five. The state says the change won’t affect the security even though the adults in custody won’t remain segregated.  

Some see the move as another step away from capital punishment. Recently, Oregon Senate Bill 1013 further limited the scope of what is considered aggravated murder which is the only crime where the death penalty is applied.   

In 2011, former Gov. John Kitzhaber instituted a moratorium on executions and Gov. Kate Brown continued this action. The AP reported that Oregon executed two people over the past 50 years.