In April 2017, Disability Rights Oregon released a report that found the State Penitentiary fell short of its goal to improve the health and well-being of inmates with serious mental illness.
The Department of Corrections undertook a number of positive changes to decrease isolation and improve conditions.
Yet, after one year of effort, the average time that Behavioral Health Unit residents spend out of their cells remains nearly stagnant at less than five hours per week.
The report makes a number of recommendations that include:
— Allowing staff from the Behavioral Health Services to interview officers applying to work in the unit and
— Providing cross-disciplinary training to ensure that officers employ clinically–informed approaches when responding to inmates with serious mental illness
Read the report: 2017.04.25_Behind the Eleventh Door_One Year Later_Final
Memorandum of Understanding
In January 2016, the Department of Corrections (DOC) signed an agreement, called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to improve the conditions in the penitentiary’s BHU within four years. The DOC promised to make changes that would allow BHU residents to spend an average of 20 hours per week out of their cells in both treatment and educational activities and unstructured time.
Read the Memorandum of Understanding: DRO-DOC-Memorandum of Understanding-2016
“Behind the Eleventh Door”
In 2015, Disability Rights Oregon released its investigative report that painted a disturbing portrait of conditions for people with mental illness held in the State Penitentiary.
It spotlighted three primary concerns: isolation, lack of access to mental health treatment and services, and a culture that promotes unnecessary violence and retaliation by correctional staff.
The report found that these individuals spent 23 hours a day confined in dark, stifling cells.
Solitary confinement is widely acknowledged to be detrimental to people with serious mental illness and a violation of their basic human rights.
Read the report: Behind the Eleventh Door.
Mental illness in prison
The corrections system has become the state’s largest provider of mental health services.
The DOC has determined that more than half of Oregon’s prison population has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
The roughly 40 men who are held in solitary confinement in the BHU are more profoundly impacted by their mental illness than any other individuals in the DOC system.