Snake River Correctional

This photo shows the main entrance to Snake River Correctional Institution, the largest facility managed by Oregon Department of Corrections, which is located off Stanton Boulevard outside Ontario city limits.


A 10th inmate from Snake River Correctional Institution, who tested positive with COVID-19 has died, and an Oregon State Police spokesman confirmed Friday that a death on Sept. 22 was determined to be from COVID. However that death, or date of death, is not among reports received from Oregon Department of Corrections, and a request is pending with the agency to see why.

Employee investigations reveal repeat offenders

Investigations into the “handful of correctional officers,” who were not wearing masks have finally been completed, according to an email from Betty Bernt, communications manager for Oregon DOC’s agency operations center.

Bernt said, to date, 36 employees who were being investigated for not wearing masks “have been verbally counseled for not wearing masks,” with some being counseled more than once. Specifically, she said, five staff were counseled for a total of 41 occurrences.

“Five staff is .5% of the 870 employees at SRCI,” Bernt wrote. “The vast majority of the SRCI team are wearing face coverings at work.”

Of two investigations, she said one is complete, having resulted in a verbal reprimand. “The second case is complete, and further action is being evaluated.”  

This information regarding investigations was initially sought in late August, after Oregon DOC officials disclosed to the newspaper that they had seen video of correctional officers standing in close proximity to inmates without wearing face coverings.

Causes of death

The latest death at SRCI marks the 14th known death overall of inmates under the care of Oregon Department of Corrections’ facilities. The latest death was a man between the ages of 70 and 80, who died Oct. 13 while being treated at a local hospital. The age of inmates who have died from the virus at SRCI is between 60 to 85, according to news releases sent out for each death.

The cause of death, which is typically reviewed by Oregon State Police Medical Examiner, has not been determined for the Oct. 13 death of an SRCI inmate. Nor has it been determined for deaths on Sept. 7, Sept. 21, Sept. 25, Sept. 27, Oct. 3, Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 and Oct. 6. The Argus Observer has requests pending through the OSP Medical Examiner’s office for updates on those causes of death.

When inmates die, Oregon DOC says it notifies Oregon State Police.

The inmate who died on Aug. 17 was confirmed to have died from COVID.

On Friday, Captain Timothy R. Fox, who is in charge of government and media relations for OSP said the cause of death for an inmate who died on Sept. 22 was identified by the Malheur County Medical Examiner to have been from COVID. He also said that was the only death he had report of within the date range given of previous deaths. In a request for clarification, it was suggested to contact the Malheur County Medical Examiner.

A phone call to that office revealed the local medical examiner would not be available until Monday.

In a previous statement Oregon DOC said the deaths were in line with “other COVID-related fatalities nationwide, many of these individuals have instances of comorbidity.”

This means a person has more than one disease or condition present at the same time, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

How we got here

The first positive test related to the facility was a staff member on June 23. Records show that there were five employees who contracted the virus near the end of that month, with the first positive case among inmates recorded on July 1.

At SRCI, there are now 444 inmates and 154 staff members who have tested positive for COVID, as of information updated on Oct. 14. There are 870 total staff and 2,908 total inmates at the facility.

SRCI remains in a Tier 4 status, which means the entire facility is on quarantine.

The last known extension of that status was through Oct. 16.

Requests are still outstanding for costs of inmates who have had to be hospitalized outside of SRCI.

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