Prisoners Sue Dep. Of Corrections Amid COVID-19

On Monday, April 6, civil rights group Oregon Justice Resource Center filed a federal class action lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon’s prison system, citing that the Oregon Department of Corrections has knowingly ignored the public health concerns of inmates during the global coronavirus pandemic.   

The lawsuit includes seven plaintiffs, all of whom are inmates at prisons across the state and are more vulnerable to the virus than others. The lawsuit names six individuals in total: Gov. Kate Brown, Director of Oregon Department of Corrections Colette Peters, and four other DOC employees. The lawsuit itself was created not only in hopes of improving the current state of prisons, but also to reduce the number of prisoners currently in custody, which is believed to be vital to halting the spread of COVID-19.   

Oregon Justice Resource Center states in their lawsuit that Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon DOC are violating the Eighth Amendment, which states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”   

In this case, the amendment is being violated, according to the civil rights group, because the prisoners are being cruelly and unusually punished as a result of a lack of measures taken to combat COVID-19 in prisons. More specifically, the DOC has not been able to provide masks to prisoners; there is limited testing available for the virus; there are not safe designated areas for those who test positive; and social distancing is impossible due to close quarters in the prisons.   

These accusations follow others from 2018, when the DOC reportedly failed to provide inmates with flu shots.   

One of the plaintiffs of the lawsuit is 62 year old Paul Maney, who is a part of the hazard clean up team in prison, which requires him to clean up various bodily fluids. It has been reported that the only protective gear provided for Maney has been gloves, despite the fact that the job’s risk has elevated with the pandemic. This is only one example of the mistreatment being cited in the lawsuit.   

By Cara Nixon