(Article) 9 of the 10 people who died in Oregon jails last year had a disability

Disability Rights Oregon (DRO)

Many individuals were not healthy enough to be in jail, many deaths were preventable

Our report bears witness to a human rights catastrophe

Most of the people who died in Oregon jails last year had a disability. As the jail population plummeted in 2020 in response to the threat of COVID-19, the number of deaths in Oregon jails rose.

An investigative report, Grave Consequences: How the Criminalization of Disability Leads to Deaths in Jail, that we released today sheds light, for the first time, on the systemic failures that contributed to the deaths of 10 individuals in jails in Clatsop, Deschutes, Jackson, Klamath, Marion, and Polk counties, as well as the Springfield Municipal Jail and the NORCOR detention center in The Dalles.

Jails are shielded from public scrutiny like few other places in society. DRO's investigation documents the systemic failures--by both hospitals and jails--that led to this tragic loss of life. The report reveals that many, if not most, of deaths that occurred in Oregon jails were preventable.

People with disabilities are dying in Oregon jails 

DRO's investigation found the following jail conditions put individuals with disabilities at risk of deadly harm.

Jails use restraint practices banned in clinical settings.
Jails inadequately assess medical conditions.
Jails are unable to provide necessary treatment.
Jails often failed to take measures to prevent suicide, even when detainees presented with known risks of suicide.
Oregon lacks meaningful transparency and oversight of jail safety and healthcare.
Detainees cycle in and out of jail due to the lack of community treatment options. 


DRO's investigation found both common failures and common solutions endorsed by a broad consensus of stakeholders. The report includes a blueprint with clear next steps to reduce the criminalization of people with disabilities and prevent deaths in jail. DRO's recommendations include:  

Produce adequate healthcare standards and effective suicide protocols for Oregon jails
Strengthen jail oversight and
Prevent the criminalization and improper incarceration of people with disabilities.

Your generous support makes our life-changing work possible

Help us continue our work to reform the criminal justice system by donating today. 

Our community of supporters makes advocacy like this possible by giving to our cause.

Sign our petition to end the criminalization of mental illness 

This report bears witness to a human rights catastrophe. It stems from our failure to build a strong community healthcare program for people with mental illness. 

You can help. Sign our petition (https://www.droregon.org/decriminalize-mental-illness-petition?mc_cid=69...) asking local leaders to invest in the community services needed to stop this phenomenon.

Some sheriffs have stepped forward to voice their support for diverting people who experience a mental health condition and are charged with low-level offenses from the criminal justice system. Ask your county sheriff to support these principles to decriminalize mental illness.

Learn more about ending the criminalization of mental illness and our Mental Health Rights Project (https://www.droregon.org/mental-health-rights-project?mc_cid=69df7d42aa&...

Thank you for everything you do to push this movement forward. 
All the best,

Liz Reetz
Stanford Public Interest Law Fellow
Mental Health Rights Project
Disability Rights Oregon