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Jefferson County

200 Deer Ridge inmates stage protest over smoke, other issues in temporary quarters

Disturbance ends peacefully; inmates, families upset by smoke due to lack of ventilation, no beds, limited meals, medication, phone access

(Update: DOC clarification - inmates walked out, did not break out)

MADRAS, Ore. (KTVZ) – About 200 minimum-security inmates at the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution near Madras, moved to a vacant building to make room for inmates evacuated from a fire-threatened state prison, walked out and refused to go back inside Friday night, complaining the building had mice, mold, no beds and was filling with smoke, making it hard to breathe,  officials and family members said.

The “adults in custody,” as inmates are called, were protesting emergency conditions imposed by the Oregon Department of Corrections in response to state wildfires, the agency said in a news release.

To make room for the 1,000 “multi-custody level” female inmates evacuated from the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, all 950 of the Deer Ridge prison’s male inmates were moved from the medium-security portion of the prison to the former minimum-security facility, which has sat unused since 2016.

Black said the men did not break out of the housing units, but walked out and refused to return.

All but a dozen of the inmates agreed to return to their housing units by 2 a.m. The agency’s crisis negotiation team was deployed, and no force was used to clear the yard, Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jennifer Black said.

The 12 inmates who refused to go back inside were placed in special housing, then transferred to another, undisclosed state prison. No inmates or employees required medical treatment as a result of the disturbance, Black said.

As of Saturday, the moved inmates still didn’t have access to traditional phones, Black said, as they could not be set up with such short notice. Instead, prison staff were working to provide the men with phone calls on their work phones.

The prison was working with its inmate phone provider to install 10 new phones at the facility, while the relocated Coffee Creek inmates have access to phones, video calls and tablets.

The agency said the inmates at Deer Ridge, four miles east of Madras, “demanded changes to emergency operations, citing the poor air quality from wildfires, temporary lack of access to phones and other disruptions caused by the CCF evacuation. DRCI employees will continue to communicate with AICs as the state battles historic wildfires across Oregon.”

An investigation is underway to determine the cause of Friday night’s incident, officials said.

Black said the minimum-security facility had very few bunks, as they had been moved to the former medium-security building, to save money. Mostly, she said, the men are sleeping on mattresses on the ground.

She also said the facility was cleaned before the inmates were moved over. DRCI staff also are supplying cleaning products.

But several family members of Deer Ridge inmates contacted NewsChannel 21 to say the inmates forced their way out of the building because poor ventilation meant it filled up with smoke and they couldn’t breathe, and that along with limited ability to make phone calls, they were not being fed adequately or given access to needed medication.

Jessica W., who asked that her last name not be used, told NewsChannel 21 her brother had called Saturday morning and that they have been in dorm-style living arrangements with over 100 inmates per dorm, sleeping on the floor, on mats.

She said he called her Saturday morning, extremely distraught, and said he "woke up with bugs crawling all over him, completely petrified."

She said he told her he'd only had one meal in 24 hours and that they are being given smaller, cold meals. He had been feeling sick for 10-plus days and had not received medical attention the past few days, with some other inmates "acting out" due to the difficult conditions.

In response to inmate and family concerns, Black told NewsChannel 21 Saturday, “We understand that this is an incredibly difficult time. We are listening to the people we incarcerate, and we are trying very, very hard to make things better.” But she disputed some families’ claims that a “riot” took place. “It was a protest,” she said.

She said inmates and families had been upset about mold, mice and no bunks in the minimum-security facility. “Our Deer Ridge staff have not heard complaints around mold or mice until today. Is it a perfect living condition, over in the minimum-security facility they were in? No.”

“The smoke is just terrible in Madras,” Black said. “We have replaced air filters, are trying the best we can.” She also said she had not yet learned if forced their way out of the building “or it was yard time and they refused to go back in.” (One family member said it was probably “a little bit of both.”)

DOC said the 1,300 Coffee Creek inmates (including nearly 300 men) were evacuated on Thursday as the Riverside and Santiam (Beachie Creek) fires threatened to merge. Earlier in the week, inmates at three state prisons in Salem were evacuated and moved to the Oregon State Penitentiary for similar reasons.

Black said the Santiam Correctional Institution and Mill Creek Correctional Facility inmates were returned to those facilities on Thursday, while inmates from the Oregon State Correctional Institution remained at the state penitentiary.

Crime And Courts / Government-politics / News / Top Stories

Barney Lerten

Barney is the digital content director for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Barney here.

Comments

46 Comments

  1. I too protest the smoke- the shutdown of the economy- the closures of the schools- the riots in Portland… I’m pretty sick of it all !

    Most of all I’m sick of the state of Oregon that the Democrat leaders and Kate Brown have created. Oregonians need to rise up and fight back- remove the Democrat party from office and Make Oregon Great Again- like it was under GOP leadership.

    Decades without massive wild fires- protection of our civil rights and civil liberties- responsible economic growth (Nike-Intel-Oregon Agriculture all thrived in the 70’s)-environmental plans that made sense (DEQ-The Bottle Bill)- Schools with graduation rates not ranked 49th in the country !

    Under the Dems Oregon has been in free fall- hell even the prisoners know when they’re basic rights are getting screwed- how sad is that !

    1. To bad ! Ur in there for a reason so suck it up buttercup and live with it like we have to. Why do u think u have any rights at all after what u’ve done to society?

      1. “ur”? “u’? “u’ve”?…..You spell like that, and then complain about what somebody else has done to society? Made it thru public education and that’s the best you can do…choosing to be ignorant? That’s SOOOOOOOOOO beneficial to society, right?

  2. Watch Kate Brown will release them just to give more hell before the election. Pure fear! Terrible governor! PNW is going down hill all because of their leaders, sheep and the liberal fake news.

  3. look at these comments and reflect on who we have become in this society – these people are doing time assigned to them by our legal system as punishment resulting from convictions for crimes committed (rule of law… ever hear of it?) – like it or not, their punishment does not include exposure to unhealthy air – and y’all just get off on other people suffering and don’t give a rip

    1. TioZo you are as unamerican as they come why don’t you go live in North Korea! They lost their rights when they did the crime! Put them on the line chain gang style and have them mop up to move the professional firefighters to the front to stop these blazes!

    2. grow up toejam, even free people have to breath the smokey air. the state isnt accustomed to taking thousands of inmates on surprise field trips. they should be thanking the staff for saving their lives and getting them to safety, not busting their **** trying to make a bad situation worse

  4. They may have lost there liberty and possessions in willfully violating the social contract they agreed into, but all people are born with a right to defend their own life and health. The cost of this defense is theirs to take.

      1. I’ve never been, unfortunately. I was born in Somerset, England. The summers are warm and dry, and the temperature is cold in the winter much like Oregon, making for a suitable home I am very much acclimatized to already. I dare say it’s not as hot or as humid as Arkansas or Mississippi or whatever other part of the devil’s anus you saw fit to crawl from.

  5. These men and women committed crimes against the state and to other innocent citizens. Whatever the state determines is their just punishment, be it incarceration by depriving them of clean air, food, a bed to sleep in, sanitary conditions, or ready and available medical care is up to the state to decide. It’s not our place to question this and if the state were to decide these men and women are residing in adequate conditions for imprisonment, then we must trust in the judgement of our leadership.

  6. I’m down here in Medford with my Brother and his wife living in my RV until we figure out what’s next after their house burned down. I am not particularly sympathetic to inmates who are breathing the same smoke the rest of the PNW is breathing.

  7. They were complaining about the air quality in the building, yet they spent time outdoors
    in the exercise yard ? Talk about stupid. I don’t know about all of the other complaints
    they had but as far as dealing with the smoke, deal with it. Everyone else has to deal with
    it at some level. Our house is very well insulated and sealed so we don’t really notice it.
    The only time it is noticeable in the house is if we open a door to go outside…
    The prisoners made a choice to commit a crime, and going to jail is supposed to be a punishment. It’s not supposed to be a vacation, and you don’t need the creature comforts of home.
    There are many people who have lost their homes and possessions because of the fires,
    and there have been people who died in the fires too so your whining and complaining has
    no affect on me, and you definitely won’t get any sympathy from me either…
    Deal with it, do your time, and stop being a scumbag and you won’t have to go back.

    The chance of anyone dying from any of the things they are complaining about is very minimal. As far as only getting one meal a day and it’s cold, you aren’t going to starve to death either.
    There are law abiding people including young kids that don’t know when they will get their next meal, and they would be happy to have whatever food you do get, so consider yourself fortunate…

  8. They don’t have a right to protest Learn to follow the Laws & do the right thing in life & you won’t be in Prison so shut the F up You have no rights you lost those when you got to the Gray bar Hotel

    1. I’d say their families do. Oh, and by the way, there are wildfire crews that are made up of “jailbirds” who are out there fighting those fires and risking their lives alongside the paid firefighters. And those inmate firefighters are of the non-violent offender variety, so they are risking their lives for either a reduced sentence or some other consideration, in essence they are gambling their very lives in the hope that they can get an earlier release date–and their crimes did not involve killing or maiming anyone. So I’d say, in that particular case, they are putting it all out there. Maybe you should shut your mouth while you’re ahead, jackass.

  9. As a minister, I do tend to show compassion to those less fortunate, those in prison, those suffering,…

    But truthfully, I got a bit indignant reading this as others have suffered much more than those prisoners have. You committed a crime and are atoning and reaping the rewards of what you have sown. Yes, you are breathing smoke, missing a meal, and sleeping in less than ideal circumstances. But bear in mind, that is the result of your sins and your choice. You have a roof, but law abiding folk are without homes. You get a cold meal, but they have lost their pantry and are grateful for the kindness of strangers. You have a bed and a pillow with the assurance that you get to go back to your lodging…even if it is a cell. They have no beds, are sleeping in tents on the ground, have no homes to return to and may not know where their family is.

    And don’t get me started on the bravery and sacrifice of the firefighters…

    YOU may think your life is hard, but as God is my witness, Others are worse off then you.

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