Existing Laws May Support Early Release from Oregon Prisons Due to COVID-19

Oregon law (ORS 144.126) allows the Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision to “advance the release date of a prisoner,” if the Board determines that “continued incarceration is cruel and inhumane and that advancing the release date of the prisoner is not incompatible with the best interests of the prisoner and society and that the prisoner is: (a) Suffering from a severe medical condition including terminal illness; or (b) Elderly and permanently incapacitated in such a manner that the prisoner is unable to move from place to place without assistance of another person.”

Similarly, according to state regulations (OAR 255-040-0028) “the Board [of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision] may consider reductions in prison terms when any inmate, regardless of whether they committed their crime before or after November 1, 1989 is suffering from a severe medical condition.” The regulations do require “a medical authority’s report, which attests to [the] validity of the condition with reasons why continued incarceration would be cruel and inhumane[,]” as well as various other recommendations provided by the Department of Corrections. OAR 255-040-0028.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, there will almost certainly be cases in prisons throughout the state of Oregon. The inability to practice social distancing in prison combined with questionable sanitization practices heighten the risk of exposure to the virus. In the event a prisoner or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the above laws and regulations may provide a basis for a symptomatic prisoner (who is already serving a sentence) to obtain early release, particularly if they have underlying health conditions that put them at risk of complications from the virus.