Wyden, Merkley letter to federal prisons boss seeks clarity on conditions at Oregon prison

By Lillian Mongeau Hughes (OPB)
Aug. 19, 2022 7:23 p.m.

The letter addressed to Colette Peters, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and former leader of Oregon’s state prison system, requests an update on “allegations of retaliation”

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

The Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra/OPB

Conditions are terrible at Oregon’s federal prison based in Sheridan, according to statements given by inmates in multiple court filings over several years. According to the filings, many people incarcerated at the Sheridan Federal Correctional Institute have unmet medical needs, are kept in small cells for large parts of the day, and have received extremely limited access to family and lawyers, among other alleged injustices.


Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley sent a letter Friday to Colette Peters, the new director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, asking her to answer a series of questions about allegations of violence against prisoners who have complained.


“We are concerned about recent press reports that there has been retaliation and violence against inmates at FCI Sheridan for speaking out about their experiences regarding unaddressed medical needs; small cell confinement; and limited access to family and lawyers as a result of the pandemic,” the letter reads.

Peters is familiar with Oregon, having been the head of the state’s prison system until the end of July, when she was appointed to lead the federal system. She began in her new role with the federal bureau Aug. 2.

In July, Oregon’s federal public defender submitted a court filing documenting that many people imprisoned at FCI Sheridan had called their lawyers to complain about out-of-state guards who had been brought in to toss cells and beat prisoners. The senators’ letter asks Peters about these reports: “Why was this team brought to the FCI Sheridan? What is their role? Under what conditions will they be removed?”

The senators also asked about the ongoing lack of access to mental health treatment for those accused of crimes but too mentally ill to stand trial.

“We understand there have been significant delays in access to treatment and evaluation for competency restoration for these defendants,” the letter states, before citing case law compelling the bureau of prisons to address the problem, and asking Peters for what steps she is taking.

The letter concludes with a request for a response no later than Sept. 19 and a note: “We appreciate that you have just begun your tenure at the BOP, but given the urgency of the situation, we welcome a quick response.”


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