Today more than two-million inmates live in America’s prisons. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), that gives the United States the largest incarcerated population in the world.
Prisons in Oregon are overcrowded, understaffed, dangerous places. Inmate violence and overwhelmed prison medical care programs pose real hazards to incarcerated Oregonians.
At the Richard Rizk Law Office, we represent inmates who have been injured while in prison, and the families of inmates who have tragically died while behind bars. Matters we handle include inmate injuries and deaths resulting from alcohol or prescription drug withdrawal, denial of medical care, excessive force, inmate violence, and restraint-related injuries.
We believe all inmates deserve justice, and commit our full resources to protecting our clients’ civil rights.
Two Fundamental Rights of Oregon Inmates
Inmates in Oregon correctional facilities possess two fundamental rights in particular: the right not to be injured or the victim of violence; and the right to have access to medical care.
Freedom From Injury and Violence
Under Oregon law governing correctional facilities, no “prison official or employee may strike or inflict physical violence except in self-defense, or inflict any cruel or unusual punishment” on an inmate. Inmates are deemed to be “ under the protection of the law and … shall not be injured except as authorized by law.”
Access to Medical Care
Inmates in Oregon correctional facilities have a fundamental right to appropriate and adequate healthcare. According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, “all types and levels of health care must be provided in a clinically appropriate manner by properly credentialed professionals in settings equipped and designed for the delivery of health care. Health care includes medical, dental and psychiatric/mental health services.”
Inmate Deaths and Abuse in Oregon Correctional Facilities
Despite the legal guarantees of freedom from injury and access to adequate medical care, inmates in Oregon correctional facilities have tragically died from a lack of medical attention while in state custody. Earlier this year, a woman sued the Department of Corrections after her mother died during a flu outbreak at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. The Department had failed to vaccinate the inmates, leading to a dangerous public health crisis in the prison population. The same month, three Jefferson County jail employees were indicted on negligent homicide charges relating to the death of a 59-year old inmate in their custody. According to reporting in The Oregonian, the inmate had complained to jail staff about not feeling well and did not receive adequate medical care as required.
Local jails are not the only correctional facilities where prisoners have died under the care of the Department of Corrections. In 2017, numerous inmates at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution died “unexpectedly,” according to The Oregonian. While it is not clear that all of these deaths were wrongful, the figure highlights the reality that inmates are not necessarily safe when they are in state custody. Nor is the threat of death the only potential cause for concern about inmate well-being. Earlier this year, a group of inmates sued the Department of Corrections over its use of solitary confinement as a form of coercion and cruel and unusual punishment at the Oregon State Penitentiary.
Inmate Deaths Pose Particular Challenges
The Oregon State Police must investigate the death of any “unexpected” death of an inmate while in state custody. For family members of inmates who have died, this often offers little consolation. Information about how an inmate died can be unreliable. Corrections employees have an incentive to deflect blame and hide important evidence. Conducting an independent investigation can be difficult, because of the bureaucratic and institutional hurdles involved with collecting evidence from inside a correctional facility and speaking to witnesses also incarcerated there.
That is why, when a loved one dies behind bars “unexpectedly,” it can be especially important to retain a lawyer with experience representing the families of Oregon inmates in wrongful death cases. An attorney with experience investigating incidents that occurred within prison walls, who knows how to navigate the Department of Corrections bureaucracy, and who can prepare a successful case against a governmental entity, gives families the best chance to recover the compensation they deserve for the wrongful death of their incarcerated loved one.
When to Contact an Attorney
Families of incarcerated Oregonians often feel powerless to help their loved ones. Once their family member’s criminal lawyer moves on to the next case, they lack a legal ally to help guide them through life after their loved one’s sentencing.
At the Richard Rizk Law Office, we understand. We encourage families of prisoners to call us as soon as there is a hint that their loved ones have been injured or are at serious risk of injury in prison, and not to wait until the worst has happened. We may be able to help.
For example, call us if:
- You get the feeling your incarcerated loved one is not receiving appropriate medical attention for an acute or chronic condition
- You see a marked change in your loved one’s mental health state, including indications of severe depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts
- Your loved one seems acutely afraid of specific prison personnel or other prisoners, but won’t say why
- Your loved one has been “punished” with solitary confinement or other extreme measures that seem unjustified
- Your loved one sustains unexplained injuries behind bars
- Your loved one unexpectedly has to go to the hospital, and prison officials give inadequate or confused explanations
If the worst has happened, and you learn your loved one has unexpectedly died while behind bars, do not wait for the Oregon State Police investigation to conclude before contacting us. The sooner we get involved, the better the chances we can collect critical evidence of potential wrongdoing and secure you and your deceased loved one the justice and compensation you deserve.
Oregon Prisoner Wrongful Death Attorney
At the Richard Rizk Law Office, we have a strong commitment to defending and vindicating the civil rights of Oregon inmates who have been wrongfully injured or killed at a correctional facility. Every inmate should have access to adequate medical care. When prison officials fail to provide that care, and tragedy strikes, call in the experienced team at Richard Rizk Law Office. We offer free consultations. Contact us today at (503) 245-5677 or write to us using our online contact form.