Jade Schulz

[This year's news cycle was a vicious one, and left little time for reflection. As 2020 nears its end, we're taking the opportunity to look back on the most important Mercury stories written during the past year. This article was originally published on April 15, 2020. We hope you'll consider making a monthly contribution to the Mercury to help continue our work into next year and beyond.—eds.]

At 11 am Tuesday morning, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approached a podium in a Portland government building to deliver an update to the public on the state’s response to COVD-19. In a crowded room just six miles north of Brown’s press conference, at least a hundred men incarcerated at Columbia River Correctional Institute (CRCI) sat quietly around communal TV sets watching her speak.

In the weeks and days prior, these inmates, their families, their lawyers, and their supporters had sent numerous messages to Brown’s office asking for her to reduce the population size of Oregon’s 14 prisons to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A group of civil rights attorneys had also filed a federal lawsuit demanding Brown release Oregon inmates who were nearing the end of their sentence. In the past week, more than a dozen inmates and prison staff in Oregon had tested positive for the virus.

“The question was, do I plan to early release adults in custody as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?” Brown said, responding to a reporter's question. “The answer is no.”

Joshua Hedrick was one of the forty inmates in his unit watching Brown’s announcement. After hearing the news, Hedrick said, there was “a violent reaction” in the group.

“We feel abandoned... We’re scared,” he said. “I’m scared.”