Officials in Oregon’s state corrections system this week began moving hundreds of inmates out of the path of the wildfires creeping toward some of their prisons. But the introduction of large groups of prisoners into different facilities may be exposing them to another risk — contracting the virus.
Juan Chavez, a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, said that relocated inmates were sleeping on mattresses crammed close together, but it’s “picking your poison” between the virus and the fires. He added that he fears the relocated inmates could contribute to a superspreader event for the virus in the prisons.
But few other options exist for the Oregon Department of Corrections, which has evacuated four prisons so far.
Inmates will be “housed with others from their home institution whenever possible,” and officials are aware of the potential virus spread, said Jennifer Black, a spokeswoman for the prison system.
The virus has already ravaged the state prison population. In June, the governor commuted the sentences of 57 inmates who were vulnerable to the virus. There have been 829 confirmed cases in prison system facilities, including staff members and inmates, according to the department’s records. Six people have died.
At the Oregon State Penitentiary, 36 staff members and 143 inmates have tested positive.