Take Action: Ask Governor Brown to Reduce Prison Use to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

Even in a public health emergency, the government must make every effort to protect the rights of people experiencing illness or at risk of illness, especially those in our society who are most vulnerable. The ACLU of Oregon is watching closely to ensure that policies developed to stem the virus’s spread are driven by public health best practices and that government action is sound, effective, and responsible.

Legal System

We are seriously concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on incarcerated people and legal system workers in our state. 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 national public health crisis.

We are also making it easier for people in prison flile to a habeas corpus cases by providing instructions and templates. Habeas corpus is a legal remedy available to all people in jails or prisons to challenge the conditions of their confinement. It is a fundamental right under the state and federal constitutions and courts cannot legally prevent you from bringing this type of case. The purpose of the habeas petition is to make the jail or prison provide you with protection from COVID-19 or release you if they won’t or can’t. These documents have been prepared by and provided to us by the Law Office of Tara Herivel, LLC. Documents include:

Immigrant Oregonians

The pandemic is impacting all Oregonians, regardless of their legal status. But while families are reeling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents continue to target immigrant Oregonians for arrest, sending them to crowded detention centers described as “powder kegs” where doctors are concerned COVID-19 could “spread like wildfire.”

Further, if people are scared to seek treatment when they are sick due to immigration enforcement concerns, the impact and spread of COVID-19 could worsen. We must take bold action to protect our communities.

We call 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.

People Experiencing Homelessness

People without stable housing are among the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued official guidance stating, “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19.” We call on Oregon cities and leaders to follow this guidance as well as the recommendations outlined by the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty.

Stay-at-Home Order

The order that has been issued for the entire state of Oregon is an enormous and almost unprecedented curtailment of our individual civil liberties. Nonetheless, these measures have overwhelming support from local and national public health experts in support of our collective well-being. Any mandatory measure should be re-evaluated at short intervals to ensure it remains justified and that there are no less restrictive measures available. The ACLU of Oregon will be watching closely to make sure that the government's response is scientifically justified and no more intrusive on civil liberties than absolutely necessary. 

We are monitoring outreach to us from the public to ensure that these policies are not being implemented in disparate or discriminatory ways. Aside from identifiable problems with enforcement, these policies, even if fairly enforced, are going to have the gravest effects on vulnerable communities.

Officers enforcing the shelter in place order should refrain from issuing citations or arresting people. The public should be educated not criminalized. Taking people to jail only heightens the risk to the public from COVID-19.  

If you feel your rights have been violated, you may contact us here.

Abortion access

With the state mandating the delay of elective procedures as a way to provide additional resources and capacity to the health care system, it is critical that abortion be categorized as essential care. We asked Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Pat Allen Oregon to provide guidance that makes it clear that obstetrics and gynecological procedures, including abortion, will not be included in the category of “elective” procedures that will be delayed or postponed. This will help to avoid confusion or the inappropriate denial of services and will ensure that pregnant people can access the reproductive health care services they need in a timely manner.

Disability Rights

The spread of COVID-19 is an enormous challenge to the 950,000 Oregonians with disabilities in all corners of the state. We teamed up with Disability Rights Oregon, FACT Oregon, and the Oregon Self Advocacy Coalition, to urge Gov. Kate Brown and other government officials to ttake action to meet the needs of Oregonians with disabilities, who are among those at greatest risk during the current public health crisis. The groups sent detailed recommendations to ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to care and the supports they need to be healthy, safe, and independent.

Family Rights

We partnered with Youth, Rights & Justice to push the Child Welfare division of the Department of Human Services to take immediate action to adequately protect the rights and well-being of children and families in the child welfare system. Steps DHS needs to take include developing visitation plans collaboratively and on a case-by-case basis, much more transparency for families involved in the system, immediately notifying youth and families when they are exposed to COVID-19, and including community stakeholders in decision making.