Prisoners with severe mental illness are routinely tasered, pepper-sprayed, isolated, and denied access to adequate mental health care - according to a new report by Disability Rights Oregon.

The cells in the BHU are about 6 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Each contains a thin mattress on a  concrete platform. There is a stainless steel plumbing unit with a sink on top of the toilet at the back wall. Officers have a clear line of sight to the toilet from the front of the cell.

The cells in the BHU are about 6 feet wide and 10 feet deep. Each contains a thin mattress on a  concrete platform. There is a stainless steel plumbing unit with a sink on top of the toilet at the back wall. Officers have a clear line of sight to the
toilet from the front of the cell.

Oregon Department of Corrections

Disability Rights looked at the Behavioral Health Unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

That’s where prisoners with severe mental illness, who’ve committed violent crimes, are often placed.

Sarah Radcliffe, an attorney with Disability Rights, says they found prisoners being held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day; and an imbalance of power between security and medical staff, which led to inadequate mental health care. “And we also found that prisoners in this unit are subjected to frequent unnecessary use of force, by staff, often in response to behaviors that are related to their mental illnesses,” she said. 

The successful completion of classes is a requirement for transitioning out of the Behavioral Health Unit. Prisoners sit in four phone booth sized metal cages.

The successful completion of classes is a requirement for transitioning out of the Behavioral Health Unit. Prisoners sit in four phone booth sized metal cages.

Oregon Department of Corrections

A spokeswoman from the Oregon Department of Corrections said the agency is working with Disability Rights to make improvements, but it’s concerned that the group did not interview any security staff to get their perspective for the report.