DRO investigates abuse of prisoners with mental illness

Report finds Oregon prisoners with severe mental illness are routinely tasered, pepper-sprayed, isolated, and denied access to adequate mental health care

Disability Rights Oregon investigates conditions at an Oregon Prison Unit that houses prisoners with serious mental illness; report issued today


Behind the Eleventh Door – Electronic Version

Behind the Eleventh Door – Print Version

Today, Disability Rights Oregon released its investigative report of the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) at Oregon State Penitentiary. The report, “Behind the Eleventh Door,” documents an environment of violence, isolation and medical neglect that is causing ongoing, serious harm to prisoners with the most profound mental illnesses.

DRO’s investigation finds that BHU prisoners are:

  • Excessively and unnecessarily confined in tiny cells for 23 hours per day with no access to fresh air or natural light, few opportunities to shower or exercise;
  • Denied adequate access to mental health care that is needed to avoid cycles of psychosis, self-harm, and violence; and
  • Subjected to frequent use of unnecessary force by staff in response to inmate behaviors related to their mental illnesses.

DRO’s Executive Director, Bob Joondeph, stated, “Even in prison, there are limits to how harshly we should treat people, especially those whose behaviors are driven by severe mental illness.  People with the same clinical needs are successfully treated in the state hospital. Our society would not tolerate the regular use of isolation, violence and neglect of people with serious mental illness in any other environment.   We believe that Oregon can do better. We hope our report is a first step toward safer and more humane custody of prisoners with serious mental illnesses.”

“Officials from the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) are well-aware of the challenges of inmates with mental health needs. It estimates that over half of Oregon prisoners have a mental health diagnosis. ODOC has cooperated in providing us access to the BHU to conduct our investigation and we hope to work with them to make significant changes.  We expect that this will require new policies, training, and housing options.  Lack of resources cannot justify the status quo.”

The report’s title, Behind the Eleventh Door, is a reference to the eleven doors that must be opened and closed to get from the prison’s entrance to the dark BHU unit. The 60-page report details DRO’s findings and contains recommendations for changes that will be needed to meet constitutional standards and reduce the danger and futility faced by staff and prisoners who work and live there.

Copies of the report are being provided to ODOC, state policy makers, and others who share concerns about the treatment of individuals with serious mental illness.

Behind the Eleventh Door is available by on DRO’s website at www.droregon.org/bhu.

Questions and further inquiries about DRO’s investigation and report may be directed to Bob Joondeph, Joel Greenberg, or Sarah Radcliffe at 503 243 2081.

Press Release: BHU Report 5-4-15

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