Oregon State Penitentiary (Courtesy/Wikimedia Commons)

An inmate in at Oregon State Penitentiary who tested positive for COVID-19 has died, according to the Department of Corrections.

According to the department, the inmate died on May 20, at a hospital, and was between 50 and 60 years old. The individual’s next of kind have been notified, as well as the Oregon State Police.

The department typically includes details about individuals who die while in custody, including name, age, county where they were convicted and the length of sentence. However, the department, included fewer details in a press release sent out Thursday. This is the first time the department has reported that an inmate with COVID-19 has died.

Although the department noted that the inmate tested positive for COVID-19, the Medical Examiner will determine the cause of death.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the state’s closely packed prisons have been a particular area of concern. The Department of Corrections has closed visitation, restricted group activities, increased sanitation, offered inmates masks and enacted social distancing measures.

But criminal justice reform advocates have called on Gov. Kate Brown to release some inmates early to ease crowding in the 14 institutions across the state that house 14,500 individuals. In April, the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a Portland-based civil rights group, filed a federal lawsuit against Brown and the department for putting vulnerable prisoners at risk.

“We have heard from dozens of incarcerated Oregonians, many of whom are medically vulnerable, and their families about their fears of the harm contracting the disease could do to them,” the group said in a statement issued after the inmate’s death was announced. “There is an urgent and clear need for a comprehensive program of prevention, testing, and care to be implemented throughout Oregon’s prisons.”

According to a department press release, 38 employees and 148 incarcerated people have tested positive for COVID-19 in all Oregon prisons.

Oregon State Penitentiary has been the hardest hit, with 115 inmates testing positive for the virus. That number has grown rapidly over the past two weeks.

“DOC is identifying the especially vulnerable population within the institutions and intensifying the efforts to reduce potential exposure and transmission,” the department said in a statement. It noted that it was following federal and state guidelines for caring for inmates with flu-like symptoms. 

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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