Death of mentally ill inmate called preventable

The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Families of inmates at two Oregon prisons are now able to schedule limited visits with their loved ones, and a third prison will soon follow suit.

Jennifer Black, an Oregon Department of Corrections spokesperson, said the Oregon State Penitentiary and Columbia River Correctional Institution recently started allowing scheduled visits. The department will begin allowing scheduled visits at Salem’s Oregon State Correctional Institution on Monday.

The penitentiary, also located in Salem, began a trial visitation program April 11 in an effort to “ease into reopening,” Black said. The program was paused April 30 as Marion County’s COVID-19 risk level increased but resumed May 10 when the county’s risk level dropped.

The state opened visitations at northeast Portland’s Columbia River Correctional Institution on June 6.

Each prison has its own set of visitation guidelines. The number of people who can visit an inmate varies depending on the facility, and visiting times range from 40 minutes to 2½ hours. All visitors will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and allowed only one visit a week.

Visitation had been closed at Oregon’s prisons since March 2020, when COVID-19 began spreading throughout the state. Several Oregon prisons have since had major coronavirus outbreaks, with an estimated 3,600 inmates becoming infected and 42 dying from the virus.

Families of several inmates who were infected with COVID-19 have filed class-action lawsuits against the Department of Corrections, alleging the department failed to protect incarcerated people from the disease.

The nonprofit organization Oregon Justice Resource Center filed a class-action suit in January calling for all inmates to be vaccinated. After a federal judge ruled in favor of the inmates, the state made them eligible for vaccinations.

The state is currently determining which prisons can host visitors, based on county positivity rates, the “tier level” of each institution and the Oregon Health Authority’s workplace outbreak report.

Black said any prison that has a “workplace outbreak” is not allowed to host visitors.

Six of Oregon’s 14 prisons are in “tier 1” as of Wednesday, meaning they are either open for visits or poised to open soon.

Santiam Correctional Institution and Warner Creek Correctional Facility are scheduled to open for visitation in early July. Black said the department plans to eventually offer online visit scheduling at both prisons.

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