SALEM, Ore. — Officials in an Oregon county agreed Thursday to lower the number of inmates crammed into a single cell and take other actions after a woman filed a lawsuit saying she was jailed under inhumane conditions.
Under the settlement in U.S. District Court, staff at the Douglas County jail in Roseburg — once known as the timber capital of America — must document the procedures so advocates can ensure they’re being followed.
Kelly Simon, an American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon lawyer who represented plaintiff Terri Carlisle, said the documentation is necessary because such settlements can be used to pull back a “steel curtain” hiding conditions in overcrowded jails across America that often operate with little to no oversight.
Carlisle was locked up in 2015 for driving under the influence. She says a jailer accused her of hoarding her medication for a nerve disorder and punished her by moving her to a hot, stinking cell for six days crammed with other female inmates with one open toilet.
Some cellmates were menstruating and denied hygiene products, the lawsuit says, adding that at least one woman had an open sore but received no medical attention and another woman was vomiting.
Conditions were so grim in the jail’s general population that one inmate had another break her arm so she could get out for medical treatment, Carlisle said.
The settlement also allows inmates to shower twice a week and provides menstruating prisoners with hygiene products.
County Commissioner Chris Boice, who signed the settlement, declined to comment. Sheriff Jon Hanlin, named as a defendant, was unavailable for comment, his office said. A department spokesman didn’t return a call.
Nationwide, jails log 12 million admissions a year, mostly low-income people arrested for minor offences who can’t afford bail, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, an organization based in New York that seeks to improve the justice system. It says many jails are crowded, with poor sanitation.
“Lawsuits can help stop counties from crowding people into jail cells without meeting their basic needs,” said Jacob Kang-Brown at the institute. “But because litigation has constraints, we need to have a larger conversation about oversight across the U.S. that can ensure incarcerated people’s rights are respected.”
Carlisle’s civil rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene in May 2017 by the ACLU of Oregon and the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis and Clark Law School.
It claims medicine to relieve her peripheral neuropathy was withheld as punishment, causing sharp pains.
Under the settlement, no inmate can have prescription medicine discontinued without medical review; the jail commander will meet with medical staff at least once a week with the meetings documented; and the holding cell, where up to a dozen women had been held, will be limited to nine inmates.
The suit also names Correct Care Solutions, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, which contracted to provide medical care for inmates. It did not join the settlement and litigation against it continues. The company previously declined comment on the allegations.
Simon credited Carlisle, a former health care worker, for standing up for her rights.
“I don’t think we have change without people like Terri Carlisle who have the courage to raise their voices and say ‘enough is enough,’ to have the courage to claim their dignity in the face of people who want to treat them like animals,” Simon said.
Carlisle said she hopes the county adheres to the settlement.
“I’m concerned about accountability,” Carlisle said in a phone interview. “Who’s going to make sure that they’re holding up their end of the bargain?”
Under the settlement, Douglas County also agreed to pay Carlisle’s attorney fees of $25,000.
Andrew Selsky is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky
Andrew Selsky, The Associated Press