Power out at Oregon prison amid COVID-19 outbreak

One of Oregon’s largest prisons experiencing another COVID-19 outbreak has been grappling with a major power outage for the last week.

The outage at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla began on Dec. 16 and has affected six housing units and about 600 inmates, or a third of the prison’s total population, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported. Staff and outside contractors have been on site trying to determine the cause and how best to resolve it, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections.

Prisons officials don’t yet have a firm timeframe for when power will be restored.

The outage comes as the state’s prison system has been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic. More than 1900 inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus and 20 have died. As of Monday, 85 inmates at the Two Rivers prison were being treated for COVID-19.

"They’re going through a power outage of unknown length and pandemic conditions," said Tara Herivel, an attorney with clients at Two Rivers. "This is severe. One or the other would be terrible."

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On Dec. 3 and 4, two employees tested positive. On Dec. 10, corrections staff transferred 10 COVID-19-positive inmates from Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in Madras to the medical isolation unit at Two Rivers. Deer Ridge has over 130 inmates who are positive for the coronavirus, and they’ve had more than 200 cases in December alone.

"We understand that this is a terribly difficult time for the employees and (adults in custody) at TRCI, and we are working hard to resolve the issue," Jennifer Black, a spokeswoman for the state corrections department, said in an email.

Back up generators run during the night, she said, and are off during the day so crews can work. The inmates "have small battery-powered lights in each cell on the affected units," Black said.