Today, we announced a settlement with Douglas County in our federal lawsuit that challenged the inhumane conditions in the county jail. In 2017, we teamed up with the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School to file the lawsuit on behalf of Terri Carlisle, who was denied pain medication and subjected to foul conditions and cruel treatment in the Douglas County Jail. Our lawsuit against the private medical contractor, Correct Care Solutions, remains ongoing.
In 2015, Terri was put into a punishment cell that held up to 12 other women, which was in her words, “hot, filthy, and the smell was so bad it was difficult to breathe.” Terri brought an action against Douglas County because of the callous treatment she witnessed of her and the women she shared that cell with. Terri and the other women were denied showers and had to eat next to the toilet where women vomited and had diarrhea. There was also a woman who bled onto her clothing and had to wait a number of hours for feminine hygiene products and clean clothes. They had to beg for toilet paper.
Terri was put into that holding cell as a form of punishment after a cell search revealed she had salt, a pencil sharpener, fingernail clippers, ibuprofen, a stool softener, and a single nerve pain pill for which she had a longstanding prescription. She was accused of hoarding medication and, as a result, Correct Care’s doctor abruptly discontinued all of her pain medication--both ibuprofen and nerve pain medication— for the rest of her time in jail, about two months. Correct Care’s doctor would not reinstate her medication, despite her excruciating nerve pain, repeated complaints to staff, and a plea from her long-time family doctor that she be allowed to take her needed medication as he prescribed.
The settlement with Douglas County is an important step toward accountability for the treatment she suffered and witnessed. Under the agreement, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office must conduct and document weekly meetings between the jail commander and the medical staff, document how often people in their care are allowed to shower, and document how often the holding cell is cleaned. The jail agreed to reduce the holding cell capacity from 12 to nine, and to ensure access to feminine hygiene products upon request and at no cost. Douglas County must also prevent prevent private medical contractors from abruptly discontinuing prescription medications without appropriate review and authorization.
Jails throughout Oregon often lack meaningful public oversight and accountability. It is usually on the backs of those suffering abuse inside our jails to find a way to have their voices heard. Our criminal justice system is throwing people in cages with minimal resources and few meaningful channels of communication, and then closing the steel curtain. A lot of the people in our jails face mental health issues, language barriers, disabilities, debilitating health conditions, and/or lack of financial means. Many others stay silent about jail conditions out of fear of retaliation.
We hope this settlement is a signal that Douglas County and the Sheriff are willing to hold themselves accountable, although we continue to have serious concerns about their commitment to these values. Just last month, a bystander video showed that problems still exist at the Douglas County Jail. The video showed a person, who appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis, laying outside the jail intake door while partially naked. A witness said they saw jail staff callously push the person out of the door before throwing their personal items on top of them. That none of the Douglas County Jail staff had the decency to assist this person in getting medical or other care, regardless of their authority to hold the person in detention, should alarm Douglas County residents and taxpayers. No government institution should treat somebody that way. This callous, dehumanizing treatment of vulnerable members of the public does not promote community safety.
Oregonians value transparency and accountability. Our communities are putting a lot of resources into our local jails and we have a right to know whether they are managing those resources responsibly and consistent with our values. We will continue to fight for increased oversight and transparency in Oregon’s jails at the legislature, through public education and, if necessary, with more litigation.