We support a COVID-19 prison plan that safely transitions people out of prison into safer situations, with support and supervision, and provides victim notification and support services. We must protect the health of prison workers, individuals in custody, community members in the mostly rural communities where prisons are located and workers live, and ultimately the health of all Oregonians.
We support Governor Brown and the Department of Corrections acting immediately to protect the most medically vulnerable, including the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions, and pregnant women.
The Oregon State Penitentiary is Oregon’s COVID-19 hotspot with the single largest outbreak in the state. To safely reopen Oregon, we must address social distancing in prisons for the safety of adults in custody, correctional staff, the communities where prisons are located and where staff live.
While other states, including Washington and California, have made strides in reducing COVID-19 exposure in prisons and communities surrounding prisons by reducing prison overcrowding, Oregon has not. In fact, fewer people have accessed normal early transition programs, like short term transition leave, during the time of COVID-19.
People of color are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and disproportionately incarcerated in our state prisons, compounded by our state’s racist history of non-unanimous juries. Data regarding COVID-19 infections in prisons needs to be disaggregated by race to ensure those disparities are not deepened further with the spread of COVID-19.
DOC already has transition programs that support safe re-entry and knows how to work with reentry providers and community corrections to transition individuals back into the community, reuniting children and families in a time of trauma and crisis. They should continue to work with these re-entry programs, like Sponsors, Red Lodge Transitions, and Bridges to Change, who are experts in safe and supported transitions.
Victim notification and referral to support services are critical. As a state, we are moving towards timely victim notification that is trauma-informed and culturally responsive, and early transition of adults in custody during the pandemic should follow this model.
As we face one of the biggest budget shortfalls the state has ever seen and tough budget decisions, we need to prioritize funding for COVID-19 response, health, and essential social services – not prisons. Justice Reinvestment has shown us that communities can stay safe, people can be held accountable, and greatly needed public resources can be invested in critical services in local communities, housing, and addiction services, instead of being locked up in long prison sentences that do not focus on rehabilitation.