Oregon Department of Corrections
To reduce restrictive housing use and increase operational efficiency, the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) decided to phase out its use of the death row unit in 2020. ODOC transferred the 27 incarcerated people on death row at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) to special housing units or into the general population. The reform allows ODOC to decommission the old disciplinary segregation unit and repurpose the space formerly used for death row into a safer disciplinary segregation unit with upgraded utilities, technology, and less punitive conditions.
This reform aims to phase out the practice of segregating people on death row based solely on their sentence and instead allow for individualized determinations of appropriate housing placements. The change reinforces the department’s commitment to improving living conditions for adults in their custody and housing people in the least restrictive setting possible for the safety of those who work and live in their facilities. Through this reform, the department can house adults in custody (AICs) with death sentences safely in lesser restrictive settings.
In 2019, Senate Bill 1013 narrowed the definition of aggravated murder and subsequently decreased the number of incarcerated people with a death sentence in Oregon. This legislation, along with an ongoing state moratorium on executions in place since 2011, has largely ended the practice of capital punishment in Oregon. This reality, coupled with a recommendation to eliminate death row by the Vera Institute of Justice in a 2016 report, eventually led the ODOC leadership to phase out death row use. The reform centers the department’s choice to make individualized housing decisions that reflect behavioral changes rather than only a person’s sentence.
As of July 1, 2020, all housing assignments for incarcerated people who were on death row have been reassigned to suitable housing.
With guidance from the Executive Team at the ODOC, the department phased out death row use by July 1, 2020. The 27 adults in custody at OSP previously housed on death row were transferred to special housing units or into the general population at OSP or another ODOC facility.
This change allows ODOC to relocate the disciplinary segregation unit (DSU) to the repurposed space former death row unit at OSP. The relocated DSU will house incarcerated people who commit infractions—such as assaults, engage in extortion and gang activity—and close the older disciplinary segregation building. Relocating the DSU will ensure a safer environment for those who live and work at OSP. The new space allows for increased sightlines for staff, upgraded technology, a fire suppression system, and temperature controls. Relocating segregation will also provide cost savings for the department and allow ODOC to consolidate medical and behavioral healthcare in one location.