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Federal civil rights lawsuit claims the state is not slowing the spread of the virus inside its 14 prisons.

PMG FILE PHOTO - A federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Oregon's prison inmates claims the state isn't doing enough to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus inside the prisons.A group of inmates with underlying medical conditions concerned about contracting COVID-19 filed a lawsuit Monday against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the leaders at the Department of Corrections, arguing the agency provided willful and deliberately indifferent medical care to those in custody.

The civil rights lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court by the Oregon Justice Resource Center on behalf of the inmates, alleges the DOC has not taken the necessary steps to slow the spread of the virus inside its 14 institutions where more than 14,000 inmates live.

Inmates are at greater risk for contracting the disease because it's difficult to create enough social distance in prisons, jails and detention centers necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. In parts of the country, inmates in some facilities have died.

Among other things, the suit asks a judge to mandate a social distance of six feet or more between inmates in all of the DOC's facilities. If that can't be accomplished, the lawsuits ask that a three-judge panel review cases and reduce the number of prisoners in DOC's facilities so it is possible.

So far in Oregon, three inmates at the Santiam Correctional Institution in Salem have tested positive for the virus, the agency said Monday. A total of five DOC staff members have also tested positive. Two work at the Santiam prison and three work at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

The inmates named in the lawsuit have asthma and other respiratory ailments, some are HIV positive, others are elderly.

This OPB story is shared as part of a local media project to increase COVID-19 news coverage.

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