Disability Rights Oregon Releases New Jail Report

bars of a jail cell with a toilet

Andy Jones
March 16, 2017

Mr. Jones, a 55-year-old man with schizophrenia, is a former detainee at the Multnomah County Detention Center, in Portland, Oregon.

One day, Mr. Jones refused a staff deputy’s order to shower and allegedly charged at him. Rather than calling for backup, the deputy subsequently Tasered Mr. Jones in the back, kicked him repeatedly in the face, and forced him into a restraint chair, before he was later rushed to the hospital for “extensive facial fractures.”

No statement was obtained from Mr. Jones, nor were any witnesses interviewed or video footage provided. Rather, the deputy, according to the Center’s investigation, was “commended for his ability to utilize several force options, from least to most serious, in attempt to control and subdue Inmate Jones…”

Mr. Jones is just one of 45 inmates at the Center interviewed by Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) for a new report, released March 1, documenting extensive evidence of abuse and neglect at the facility.

“The conditions in Multnomah County are emblematic of flaws found throughout the State,” the report states. “Shortages of affordable housing, supportive housing, mental health services, dual diagnosis drug and alcohol treatment, and medical/behavioral health respite care mean both that people with mental illness are disproportionately in the streets, and that law enforcement agencies lack resources to offer in lieu of jail.

“The jail in turn is overwhelmed with the steady flow of individuals who have intense behavioral health needs. Medical and mental healthcare in jail is woefully inadequate and so the jail relies on correctional tools: rampant use of solitary confinement, punitive use of restraints and suicide watch, and routinized force against people with mental illness.”

DRO estimates that 400 to 800 of the more than 1,000 inmates at the Center, which holds people awaiting trial or serving sentences of less than one year, have a mental illness.

The Center, however, fails to regularly medically screen new inmates. People with mental illness are routinely placed in solitary confinement, where they have minimal programming or medical services, almost none of which is provided in confidential settings, the report states.

Further, Center staff are provided little training for working with people with disabilities, resulting in an overly punitive disciplinary structure and regular use of restraints and other abuses.

The full report, A Merry Go Round that Never Stops: Mental Illness in the Multnomah County Detention Center, and recommendations [PDF] are available on DRO's website, along with an interview with DRO's Staff Attorney Sarah Radcliff available at XRAY.fm and OPB

Visit DRW's AVID Jail Project page to see recent reports and videos about jail conditions in Washington.

Disability Rights Oregon and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Oregon and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.