PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A recent report requested by state lawmakers takes a close look inside the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and found “the state’s prison system regularly fails women custody.”
The Wilsonville facility is Oregon’s sole women’s prison with room for more than 1,500 inmates, but the report points to several necessary improvements, including drug treatment, mental health services, staff training, preventing sexual assault, and more staffing.
Other issues include appropriate-sized clothing for inmates and time with their children and families.
“It’s concerning and as the governor said, it’s even sobering,” said Heidi Steward, the head of Oregon’s Department of Corrections. “But we are really going to lean into that report and work on making the much-needed changes we need to make at Coffee Creek.”
Researchers, including Alyssa Benedict of the Women’s Justice Institute, spent several days at Coffee Creek and conducted hundreds of interviews and surveys with inmates, staff and former inmates.
“The Department of Corrections typically provides extensive training, but very rarely includes proper training on how to work with unique needs of women – most of whom are mothers and have gender-based violence,” Benedict said. “Those factors and others require different approaches.”
The department says it worked with the researchers and was part of the team that requested lawmakers order and fund the review. Gov. Tina Kotek has set up an advisory group to begin putting recommendations into place.
Steward said these changes are already underway.
“We’ve brought training into the Coffee Creek leadership team,” she said. “We started that before the report was released, and we are talking to vendors about gender-affirming clothing.”
The study’s researchers say the problems seen at Coffee Creek are also seen widely across the nation in women’s prisons, and what happens in Oregon could have a wider impact.
“What the state of Oregon is doing is actually paving the way through this assessment, and hopefully from the actions that follow to carve a national narrative and action platform that can help us do better as a country,” Benedict said.