Thirty-three clinics and Oregon hospitals are using prison inmates to clean their soiled laundry during COVID-19. Prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem work in close quarters alongside 180 others. Some of them only make 60 cents per hour.

Paul Dawson, an inmate at the Salem prison, told the Williamette Week, "We know it only takes one person to get the whole [prison] infected. We're stacked right on top of each other."

He went on to say "It seems like one of the worst places to be in the country [right now]. Working in the laundry gives me more anxiety about that."

The prison warehouse takes in approximately 40,000 pounds of laundry each day. "It comes in just as it left the hospital. There's no cleaning process that happens before it gets to us,"  said Dawson.

Prison laundry facilities in the state are run through the Oregon Corrections Enterprise, a private business within the Department of Corrections (DOC).

And this isn't the only prison in Oregon where hospitals are sending their dirty laundry for inmates to clean.

Michael Buell is an inmate at the Santiam Correctional Institute, which had the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases of any Oregon prison this month.

He told KATU2 News that his unit had about 120 people and they were "stacked on top of each other." Prison inmates were unable to practice safe social distancing, he said.

Oregon's DOC Communications Manager Jennifer Black told KATU2 that they are doing everything within their power to run safe prison institutions and keep prisoners and employees healthy.

They have added more handwashing stations and said they would provide prisoners with more face masks.

"When we did wrong out in the community - we were sentenced to prison, we weren't sentenced to death. And some people in here feel like that is an absolute possibility if something doesn't change," said Buell.

Earlier this month, twelve cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in prisons across Oregon. Governor Kate Brown has declined to release prisoners en masse and is making decisions for release on a case by case basis instead.


* This cover photo was used for illustrative purposes only.

Start the Conversation
Account Settings
Notifications
Favourites
Log Out