Disability Rights Oregon and the state Department of Corrections have reached a Memorandum of Understanding [PDF], agreeing to reduce solitary confinement and improve services for people with mental illness at the Oregon State Penitentiary’s Behavioral Health Unit.
The announcement, made January 13, follows a scathing investigation by the DRO released in May, that accuses the state of isolating people with mental illness in jail cells 23 hours a day, medically neglecting inmates, and fostering a culture of excessive force by security staff, including through the regular use of Tasers, pepper spray, riot gear and restraint chairs.
Under the MOU, inmates must be allowed at least 20 hours outside of their cells each week. They must have access to 10 hours of structured time, such as classes and treatment, and at least another 10 hours must include unstructured time, such as meals and exercise.
Mental health professionals must be on call from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day and inmates must have “reasonable access” to a psychiatric provider. The DOC must also created individualized treatment and crisis prevention plans for each inmate.
In addition, the state must track use of force incidents by security staff and provide additional training, among other steps.
“When prisoners get an opportunity to spend time outside their cells engaged in constructive activities, they are more likely to be healthy, more likely to learn how to cope with their illness, and more likely to succeed when released,” DRO Executive Director Bob Joondeph said in a news release. “Correctional systems that have adopted similar reforms have seen dramatic improvements in the lives of incarcerated individuals with mental illness and the staff who work with them every day.
“Treating prisoners with mental illnesses humanely is not just the right thing to do – it will also reduce correctional costs and re-incarceration in the long run.”
The MOU went into effect January 8. The agreement makes clear that the contract is not enforceable in court and does include any admission of wrongdoing by the state.
Disability Rights Oregon and Disability Rights Washington, the publisher of Rooted in Rights, are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Oregon and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.