The Potential for Civil Rights Violations in the Use of ‘Dry Cells’ in Oregon’s Correctional Facilities

Incarcerated people ingesting contraband (such as drugs) or other dangerous items is a legitimate problem. Like every other problem that correction workers face, there’s a right way and a wrong way to address it. Sometimes, the use of a so-called “dry cell” represents the wrong way, and the misuse of this type of confinement can be damaging or even lethal. If a loved one has died while incarcerated in a “dry cell,” then you should contact an Oregon civil rights lawyer to learn more about your legal situation and options.

“Dry cells” are cells where the inmate lacks any plumbing facilities. There is no shower, no sink, and the toilet has no water. The idea is that the contraband or dangerous item will eventually pass through the inmate’s body and prison officials can recover it after it does so.

Properly used, these cells can potentially serve some benefit. Improperly used, these cells can cause lasting physical damage… including death. That is what, according to one deceased inmate’s family, may have happened recently at Two Rivers Correctional Institute.

The inmate was initially housed at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem but moved to TRCI in November 2022. According to the family, the state refused to disclose the autopsy, the medical care the man received, and the steps to prevent his death.

One of the main ways in which the use of dry cells can violate an inmate’s rights — and potentially threaten his life — is through inattention and/or inaction by prison staff. Inattention and inaction are common elements in many prison deaths involving medical emergencies, as this blog has reported in the past with, for example, inmates going through detox.

According to a report from, the TRCI inmate’s family believed that abuse or medical neglect contributed to the man’s death. More specifically, the family alleged that prison staff saw that the inmate was unwell, but put him in a dry cell for 70+ hours anyway, “where they watched him die.”

A Successful Case Requires ‘Deliberate Indifference’

It’s important to understand that, in the specific scenario of cruel and unusual punishment cases in violation of the Eighth Amendment, the evidence must demonstrate that the responsible parties displayed “deliberate indifference” to the problem at hand. For example, if authorities in a prison provided inmates in dry cells with no fluids at all or such an inadequate amount of fluids as to result in dehydration, that could possibly represent a viable claim.

There are many ways that prison officials and staff can neglect an incarcerated person’s basic needs — causing serious harm or even death — and then try to cover up what really happened. Legal action may be one possible avenue for finding important answers about what happened to a loved one but it is extremely important to be aware that these cases are often highly complex matters. If you have legal questions, the knowledgeable Oregon civil rights attorneys at Kaplan Law LLC can provide you with helpful answers and sound advice. 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:
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