PORTLAND, Ore — A staggering number of Oregon prisoners have been infected with the coronavirus. According to the state's Department of Corrections, as of Jan. 27, 3,305 inmates have been infected since the pandemic began.
Currently, there are 333 active cases of coronavirus across the state's prison facilities. Forty-one inmates have died, including 11 inmates at Two Rivers Correctional Facility who died just between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26.
Earlier this month, the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC) filed a class-action lawsuit calling for the immediate vaccination of all inmates.
"We've heard from multiple folks that even if you're told to stay in your bunk, your unit is on lockdown, you're sitting next to people who have tested positive for the disease," Juan Chavez an attorney with OJRC said. "We have an obligation to protect them now, that's the bargain we've decided, if you don't want to incarcerate people, don't incarcerate people but now that we have we need to protect them."
The state has tried different things to keep people safe. Gov. Kate Brown let some older, at-risk inmates with shorter sentences leave early, and another 1,400 inmates, who can't leave early, have gotten the vaccine.
But 90% of Oregon’s prisoners have not gotten the vaccine and a lot of people say tough luck.
Here's an email The Story with Dan Haggerty got from a viewer named Erin: "Am I the only person that is completely outraged that inmates are getting the COVID vaccine before law-abiding citizens? This is abhorrent."
Right now, the state has prisoners in group 1b and Oregon’s Vaccine Advisory Committee has put them on the priority list during their conversations about what to recommend to the state.
Oregon lawmakers of color agree and wrote letters to the committee urging them to move low-income seniors, front line workers and inmates to the front of the line. The advisory committee is meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28 to discuss who will fall into group 1b.
A woman in custody at Coffee Creek sent KGW a hand-written letter, including several sketches.
"I am coming to you humbly on behalf of my fellow adults in custody at Coffee Creek Correctional facility. These portraits are to humanize us to the larger community. We are not just criminals, but we are everyday people, mothers, wives and daughters. People make mistakes in life, but not all of those mistakes should define a person's worth. It's a basic human right to take care of one another, and to keep each other safe and healthy."