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Call to Close Coffee Creek and Reform Oregon Department of Corrections Made by Advocacy Group

30 Oct 2023, Jail News, Prisons, by brian

Advocacy group calls for Coffee Creek closure and Oregon Corrections reform after alarming report reveals harsh conditions at women’s prison.

Call to Close Coffee Creek and Reform Oregon Department of Corrections Made by Advocacy Group - Inmate Lookup

Following the discovery of abusive and harsh conditions at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in a state-ordered report, an advocacy group urged state leaders to close the facility and totally overhaul the corrections system. The facility houses over 800 female inmates and is the only women’s prison in Oregon.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center determined that the state’s solution to resolve the problems at the facility, which includes an advisory group established by Gov. Tina Kotek, was grossly insufficient and did not meet the needs of the state.

In a report made public on Oct. 9, the center urges the state to adopt a completely new system, to close the prison in Wilsonville and establish smaller regional facilities around the state, in order for women in prison to get closer to their family and communities.

The center’s recommendation is based on the comprehensive state report in 2022 regarding the inmates and personnel of Coffee Creek. According to the report, the facility has a hostile environment where both staff and inmates are afraid to report sexual assault and other misconduct. Additionally, there is a shortage of mental health staff and a higher than average incidence of suicide attempts compared to prisons for males. 

In August, Kotek mandated Coffee Creek to find immediate solutions to implement in the next 60 days to fix the situation. In order to provide long-term solutions based on the state report, Kotek also established an advisory group. The advisory group has convened twice, both times in private, but neither time has been open to the public or the media.

The center’s Executive Director, Bobbin Singh, highlighted in an interview that Coffee Creek Correctional Facility does not have a “human-centered design” and instead looks like  a standard men’s prison that was designed for managing violent inmates and discipline them.

According to Singh, Kotek’s response to the state’s report “is not a serious response” that appropriately acknowledges the seriousness of the problem. Singh stated, “They haven’t apologized to the women at Coffee Creek or their families about the experiences that they’ve had. That’s where you start. You have to start by acknowledging the problem and taking ownership of it.”

The Oregon Department of Corrections did not refute the absence of an apology or mention any instances of upcoming improvements for women in prison. The agency emphasized its dedication to contributing to the solution. 

According to a statement by Acting Director Heidi Steward, the DOC is currently taking measures to ensure that incarcerated women have the necessary resources for success both during their time in prison and when they reintegrate into Oregon’s communities.

Steward stated that while the agency supports the state’s report, essential for identifying improvement areas, these reports often overlook the positive developments.

Advocates:  An agency-wide response is required.

Singh stated that similar evaluations must be conducted at the eleven men’s prisons as well, instead of focusing solely on Coffee Creek.

Other adjustments suggested by the center included a limit on the number of inmates in accordance with Oregon Department of Corrections staffing levels.

Although critical, Singh emphasized that the center is eager to collaborate with state leaders and contribute to the solution, a process that will require some time. The center, for instance, assigned a member of staff to Kotek’s advisory group for Coffee Creek. 

Singh stated that detailed discussions are required for the long-term solutions. Nonetheless, he stated that Coffee Creek’s women still require immediate assistance in the interim.