New national report on Oregon state prisons finds overuse of solitary confinement

The Vera Institute of Justice has released a report finding that Oregon state prisons overuse solitary confinement and that the isolating conditions are a detriment to health. Researchers also found that black and Hispanic prisoners and those who have mental illnesses are disproportionately put in solitary confinement.

In 2015, Disability Rights Oregon published a report titled “Behind the Eleventh Door,” documenting conditions for prisoners in the Behavioral Health Unit, including isolation. In 2016, DRO and the Department of Corrections (DOC) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to improve those conditions.

Read more about the Vera Institute of Justice report, and DOC’s response, at the Salem Statesman Journal.

Inmate and mental health advocates say the Department of Corrections needs to change course when it comes to solitary confinement.

“Solitary confinement is counter-therapeutic for people with psychiatric disabilities,” said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. “If a person is psychotic or depressed or anxious, putting them in a cell all by themselves tends to make the symptoms worse.”

Disability Rights Oregon, a nonprofit Joondeph has led for 25 years, advocates and litigates on behalf of Oregonians with disabilities. Staff at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the Partnership for Safety and Justice — two nonprofits that advocate for inmates — deferred to Joondeph as a statewide expert on corrections reform.

Joondeph said Department of Corrections executives have been “very open” to discussing reforms, though putting them in place is difficult. “Big institutions are hard to change. They have a culture of how they do things,” he said.

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