"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Inmate death corrections

The Oregon Department of Corrections says on its website “Oregon’s prisons are safe, civil and productive so inmates can pursue the goals specified in their corrections plans.” An important lack of candor may be throwing some clouds on that.

The Salem Statesman-Journal released a powerful report today on deaths at the Oregon prisons. One norm among most prison systems is that deaths internally are noted by a press release; DOC has issued one such death notice in the last two years. But there was not just one death, there were 79 of them. By itself, that seems like a large number. (The Oregon State Penitentiary at Salem alone accounted for 31, and Snake River Correctional Institution outside Ontario another 23.) And the nondisclosure may make Oregonians queasier.

And beyond that, the methods of death, by no means all natural causes. There was at least one drug overdose, several suicides (one “cut his wrist, swallowed a razor blade and repeatedly banged his head on a radiator”), one who injected into himself an “undetermined drug or toxin.”

And in the larger picture, you have to wonder exactly how this happened: “A 98-year-old sex offender who died of old age after a parole violation put him back behind bars in 2002.” 98 years old? Was he really so much of a serious threat to the rest of us that he had to be held in lockup? Was there no better solution?

The legislature should have some useful material to cover after reading its in-town paper today.

Note: A look at the DOC website does show a second inmate death news release on February 7, that the paper may have overlooked. The article’s point remains, however. And the department apparently hasn’t yet issued a response.

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