Oregon Inmates and Detainees Undergoing Substance Withdrawal May Face Elevated Suicide Risks Due to Inadequate Care

Insufficient medical treatment inside detention facilities is a significant issue around the country, including in Oregon’s jails and prisons. One major problem, a byproduct of the nationwide opioid epidemic, is an ever-increasing number of people entering lockup amid addiction. Whether as a result of a lack of diligence or a lack of knowledge, too many staff at lockups are failing to meet the needs of these detainees/inmates, and inmate deaths often are the result. The failure to treat conditions promptly and properly may constitute a violation of an inmate/detainee’s civil rights, in which case swiftly consulting an Oregon civil rights lawyer is an essential move.

Another area of substantial concern is mental health. Not only are substance withdrawal and mental health both major areas of concern, but they are also frequently interconnected. Medical researchers, including those with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the British Medical Association, have published significant research reporting on the link between the sudden disuse of opioids and suicide, as well as suicide as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal.

A case from Deschutes County focuses on those issues and, allegedly, a jail’s failure to provide appropriate treatment to an inmate with them.

The inmate, a 22-year-old woman, entered the Deschutes County Jail on a probation violation shortly after midnight on Feb. 12, 2023. Jail staff allegedly knew about the woman’s opioid addiction because her mother told them directly. Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the woman’s probation officer knew about her condition because the woman had previously disclosed on a probation intake form that her addiction to opioids negatively impacted her mental health and that she had attempted suicide on multiple previous occasions.

The jail staff allegedly did little about it. They placed the woman in a detox unit that consisted of “single-cell units where inmates are locked down, alone, for 23 hours a day.” According to the father’s lawsuit, the woman asked the nurse for help regarding her withdrawal symptoms on numerous occasions, but to no avail. “It was basically cold turkey,” the father told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The unit had a history of suicides, including a male inmate who hanged himself using a towel and his bed as a tie-off point. Nevertheless, the staff allegedly allowed the woman to use a towel to perform chores inside the jail shower during her one hour outside her cell, then failed to collect that towel from her at the hour’s end. After a deputy did a “supplies pass,” the woman allegedly received no “safety checks, no visual observations, and no custodial care whatsoever” until 40 minutes later, when staff found her hanging from the towel, which she had tied to her bed.

A Failure to Meet Care Duties May Mean a Civil Rights Violation

The father’s lawsuit asserted multiple bases for holding the county and its employees accountable for the woman’s death, including a wrongful death claim under state law and a federal civil rights claim.

Federal civil rights law says that local governments and jail officials have a duty to provide appropriate health care (including mental health care,) and take proper steps to ensure inmates’ safety. Governmental entities and officials can be civilly liable if they know about a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate but fail to take reasonable steps to address it.

The Bend father’s civil rights claim alleged that his daughter faced a substantial risk of serious harm as a result of her opioid withdrawal and her mental health issues. He also asserted that the jail’s overcrowding and understaffing (which were known problems,) along with substandard safety and medical/mental health care including insufficient supervision of inmates with withdrawal and mental health issues met the legal standard of a “callous disregard” of those risks.

Having a loved one die in jail or prison can be devastating. Learning that death was the result of officials failing to provide the level of care the law demands only magnifies the sense of unnecessary loss. The helpful Oregon civil rights attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC have assisted many families who have undergone exactly this sort of injustice. Our team has the knowledge and experience to give you useful and reliable advice and provide you with the diligent advocacy needed to seek accountability from those responsible. Call us today at (503) 226-3844 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

50 SW Pine St 3rd Floor Portland, OR 97204 Telephone: (503) 226-3844 Fax: (503) 943-6670 Email: matthew@mdkaplanlaw.com
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