Oregon endured a devastating wildfire season in 2020. The fires raged across the state incinerating over one million acres of land and more than 4,000 homes. Prisoners enslaved in the Oregon Department of Corrections stepped up to assist their fellow citizens, risking their lives, health and safety for a meager $9.80 a day or less in pay. Oregon Governor Kate Brown took notice of the prisoner’s willingness and bravery. The spokeswoman for Gov. Brown, Liz Merah, said that prisoners “bravely fought these wildfires, alongside civilian firefighters, and helped prevent further destruction and loss of life across the state.”
In March, Gov. Brown confirmed that prisoners who participated in the extensive firefighting efforts last summer would be considered for a sentence commutation. In June of 2021, Gov. Brown followed through with her commitment to some of the prisoners. Gov. Brown selected 41 eligible prisoners from a potential pool of 164 male and female prisoners. There were three primary factors considered when determining eligibility: the prisoner must have assisted during the 2020 wildfire season, maintained 12 months of good conduct, and had a proper housing plan upon release. Of those selected for commutation, 23 of them, which includes eight women, were released on July 22, 2021. The remaining 18 had their sentences reduced by 12 months, including three women serving mandatory-minimum sentences.
“The governor recognizes that these adults in custody served our state in a time of crisis, and she believes they should be rewarded and acknowledged for their contribution to this historic firefighting response,” read a statement from the Governor’s office. The 123 prisoner firefighters who also risked their lives apparently do not deserve to be rewarded with sentence reductions.
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