Oregon PSR and the Oregon Justice Resource Center have come together to advocate for the health of Oregon state prisoners over the last few months. Last week, we released a press statement expressing some of our concerns with the recent Oregon state prison wildfire evacuation. In light of the many disturbing reports of how adults in custody were treated and likely exposed to COVID-19, news coverage quoted our member, Dr. Ann Turner, saying:
“Especially in an emergency, the state has a responsibility to care for the people it is holding in custody. We must reduce the prison population immediately and take careful precautions to improve conditions and evacuation plans so that we avert additional crises."
Oregon PSR began to advocate for Oregon state prisoners out of concerns over COVID-19 and the dire consequences of a deadly outbreak in our state prisons. We seek to prevent the sort of deadly outbreak happening at the San Quentin State Prison.
During the recent fires in Oregon, people incarcerated at four prisons had to be relocated to other ODOC facilities. Over 5,000 people (35% of the prison population) in custody were impacted by the move and there is little understanding or clarity about what transpired. We are deeply concerned by the numerous and consistent accounts we’ve heard from incarcerated people of what they experienced during the evacuations and while being held away from their original facilities.
COVID-19 is already inside Oregon’s prisons, with more than 1,100 cases recorded among adults in custody and staff. If combined with another emergency such as the wildfires or the upcoming flu season, we could see COVID-19 cases skyrocket. We must have a third party investigate what went wrong during the evacuations so that changes are made to prevent these kinds of problems in future.