Over the last few years, one of the many injustices that the COVID-19 pandemic has spotlighted is how prisons fail to protect the health of adults in custody. Crowded prisons with insufficient access to masks and hygiene infrastructure have caused Oregonians in prison to become sick and die from COVID-19.People with histories of incarceration are already in worse physical and mental health according to research by the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.
To make matters worse, for people who are seriously or terminally ill Oregon’s process for compassionate medical release from prison is not fit for purpose. We’ve learned that between 2013 and 2020 more people died in prison waiting for a decision on their release application than were actually released. Only nine were able to complete the process and were released. Despite our state’s aging prison population, we do not have a humane and effective system in place to handle release of individuals whose continued incarceration does not serve them or our community. Current criteria for early medical release are too narrow, requests are not reviewed by medical professionals, and the application process is inaccessible and slow.
Fortunately, we have a plan to improve Oregon’s process for compassionate medical release. Senate Bill 520 will establish an independent Medical Release Advisory Committee (MRAC) of health professionals within the Board of Parole and make recommendations for inmate medical releases based on medical and public health criteria. SB 520 will greatly improve the process for adults in custody who have pressing medical needs that cannot be met by state prisons. The final decision on release will remain with the Board of Parole who can deny release if there is a public safety concern.
Read the factsheet on SB 520 from our partners at Oregon Justice Resource Center below for more information.
Please use this link to find your state legislators' email address and phone number and let them know that you support SB 520.
Here is a sample email/script:
I am writing to express my support for SB 520, which would greatly improve Oregon's process of compassionate early medical release from prisons. Some health conditions cannot be well-managed inside of Oregon's prisons, and all Oregonians have a right to access the medical care and treatment that they need. We have learned during the COVID-19 crisis that prisons are often not well-equipped to care for public health.
Right now, requests for early medical release are difficult to submit and aren't reviewed by medical professionals. SB 520 would create an independent Medical Release Advisory Committee (MRAC) of health professionals within the Board of Parole and make recommendations for inmate medical releases based on improved medical and public health criteria. Criteria would be phased in over time and the Board of Parole will still hold the final say. We must pass SB 520 this session so that we can begin implementing an improved, health-based approach to caring for Oregonians who are serving prison sentences.
Health care is a human right for all - please support SB 520.
[Name, Town, ZIP code]