The ACLU of Oregon is seriously concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated people and legal system workers in our state. 14,000 Oregonians, many elderly and already in poor health, are currently confined in unhygienic, small, and densely populated jail and prison cells. Our justice system can’t afford to stay stagnant in this pandemic. Action now is important for the health of all of us.

We teamed up with Disability Rights Oregon, Partnership For Safety & Justice, the Oregon Justice Resource Center, the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, and Sponsors, Inc. to offer help and urge immediate action. Together, we sent joint letters to Oregon’s legal system leaders to share science- and civil liberties-backed risk-reduction recommendations. 

From policing, prosecution and pretrial hearings, to sentencing, confinement, and release, every aspect of the system must come under intense scrutiny for how it responds to this crisis. The well-being of our communities depends on government officials, policymakers, and law enforcement following the guidance of public health experts with swift and science-based policy changes to reduce the justice system’s footprint. 

We are grateful for the officials and law enforcement agencies who have already been responsive, transparent, collaborative, innovative, adaptable. We need bold action now to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

  • Governor Kate Brown
    We recommended Governor Brown create an executive task force that could operate, executive orders she could implement, and detailed how she could expedite the release of vulnerable people incarcerated in Oregon.
     
  • Oregon Department of Corrections
    We called on the Oregon Department of Corrections to follow nearly 30 specific recommendations involving medical treatment, staffing, communication and access to the courts, population management, and transparency.
     
  • Oregon’s Chief Justice and State Court Administrator
    To Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters and State Court Administrator Nancy Cozine we highlighted 19 measures that courts could implement to help public health.
     
  • Oregon State Sheriffs Association 
    To the Oregon State Sheriffs Association – whose members oversee all the county jails – we encouraged them to reduce their jail populations, increase cell and personal hygiene for inmates and staff, increase screening, collaborate with local hospitals, and ten other necessary steps.
     
  • Oregon District Attorneys Association 
    To the Oregon District Attorneys Association – whose members are among the most important players in the criminal justice system – we detailed nine simple ways they can wield their authority to limit the spread of COVID-19. 
     
  • Special Joint Legislative Committee on Coronavirus Response
    We urged the Oregon Legislature to appropriate emergency funding to support the health of those in custody, allow for expedited release review of vulnerable people in our state prisons, and to fund services that support their safe and healthy reentry into the community.

We also teamed up with the Oregon Ready immigrants’ rights coalition, made up of more than two dozen community groups, to call on ICE and Portland’s immigration court to take swift action to protect public health. The coronavirus pandemic is impacting all Oregonians, regardless of their legal status. 

  • ICE and the Portland Immigration Court
    We called for the immediate suspension of all ICE field operations, the release of people incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, the closure of the Portland Immigration Court and extension of deadlines, and for transparency in all their actions. 

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