Governor Commutes Sentences for 57 ‘Medically Vulnerable’ Inmates

Oregon Governor Kate Brown will commute the sentences of 57 adults in custody who are more vulnerable to Covid-19 due to their medical conditions, she announced Thursday.

These individuals would be at risk for “significant health challenges” if they contracted the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

Several Oregon correctional facilities have been hotspots for the virus, including the state’s largest outbreak: the Oregon State Penitiary, which has been linked to 182 confirmed cases since April.

Brown’s decision comes following the Oregon Department of Corrections’ case-by-case analysis of all adults in custody, which sought to identify those inmates who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, as identified by DOC medical staff; are not serving a sentence for a person crime; have served at least half of their sentence and have a record of good conduct for the last 12 months.

Eligible inmates also must have a suitable housing plan, have their out-of-custody health care needs assessed and adequately addressed and cannot “present an unacceptable safety, security, or compliance risk to the community,” according to the governor.

She said she received a list of 61 adults in custody who met those criteria, and ultimately decided to commute the sentences of all but four. Three adults in custody were reviewed by DOC, but were not offered commutation because they were already scheduled for release within the next seven days.

One additional adult in custody on the review list was not scheduled for release until 2025, and the governor decided that commutation at this time would be premature.

The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Those granted commutation will still be subject to post-prison supervision, according to their original sentence. The remaining time of their prison sentence will be converted to and tacked onto their post-prison supervision, according to state officials.

Post-prison supervision typically requires released individuals to meet a number of conditions, including regularly checking in with their parole officer, participating in substance abuse and mental health evaluations, and not possessing any firearms.

Individuals who violate these terms are subject to sanctions, including a return to prison and revocation of their commuted sentence.

DOC has confirmed that 13 adults in custody on the commutation list have housing and continuity of health care plans in place. For those individuals, the commutation process can begin as soon as the adult in custody tests negative for COVID-19.

The commutation process for the remaining adults in custody will begin once DOC confirms each of their housing and release plans are in place and they have tested negative for COVID-19.

In a later statement, Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, of Stayton, criticized the governor’s move, saying it reflected a “disturbing trend … to earn political points.”

“The early release of inmates now coupled with the 2019 bill that narrowed the use of the death penalty and changed sentences for the most serious murder crimes, are both policies that favor offenders and excuses their violent choices,” he said.

Girod also disputed that all 57 of the commuted inmates have housing plans.

“Less than a quarter of the inmates that will be released have housing plans in place, he said. “The other 44 inmates will be turned out on the streets. How is that safer for them and Oregonians?”

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