Spokespeople for Gov. Tina Kotek and the corrections agency declined to answer questions about the allegations of abuse and poor conditions at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville

By Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle, April 5, 2024

At Oregon’s only women’s prison, female inmates have seen large black paper cutouts of rats along a hallway’s walls and heard a corrections officer call women “informants” and “rats” for speaking to investigators, according to a new report.

The intimidation follows a state-ordered outside assessment of conditions at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility that was released last year. The women’s prison is a 508,000-square-foot facility, located on 108 acres in Wilsonville, has more than 800 female inmates, including some who’ve complained about harassment and sexual abuse.

Some of their latest complaints, including the intimidation, are included in a new report by the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a Portland-based nonprofit advocacy group. 

The  publication is the latest documenting conditions at Coffee Creek after  the report last year by Women’s Justice Institute in Chicago and the Center for Effective Public Policy in Maryland described harsh conditions at Coffee Creek, including a culture of retaliation that discourages staff and inmates from reporting wrongdoing. In response to that report, Gov. Tina Kotek said she was “not happy” with the prison management and in August formed an advisory group that is meeting behind closed doors to formulate recommendations. In November, the Oregon Department of Corrections also announced plans for short-term changes at the prison, like providing sports bras and more activities, to boost the quality of life of prisoners.

But this latest report – and advocates – say the the state’s response has been inadequate and has fallen  far short of what’s needed to address the problem. The report documents accounts of male correctional officers standing uncomfortably close to showering women, agency staff complaining about reforms and inmates served spoiled food.

“That silence is the thing that’s still most stunning, because if this was happening in any other sector of society, and people were being treated this way, most people would be horrified,” Bobbin Singh, the center’s executive director, said in an interview with the Capital Chronicle. “And there’d be a deep investigation into what’s going on.”

Among the allegations in the report, based on inmate accounts:

At least two officers repeatedly stand near the shower stalls and make eye contact with women as they shower or stand up after using the bathroom. 
A corrections officer said pictures of rats would not be taken down because inmates who talked to outside assessors were “telling on us.”
Poor living conditions, including spoiled food and water leaks from a roof.

Advocates said the state has had plenty of time to correct the situation.

The state’s report came out more than 200 days ago, a point advocates hammered home with the release of their findings.

“Governor Kotek has not yet apologized to those who have been and are currently incarcerated at CCCF,” said Julia Yoshimoto, director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center’s Women’s Justice Project. “Governor Kotek, at minimum, must apologize for how people have been treated and are still being treated at CCCF, and, importantly, make the commitment that responding to the (state’s report) will be a priority for her administration in the 2025 legislative session.”

‘No comment’ from Kotek’s office

The governor’s office did not respond to the issues raised by the report or say what actions Kotek has ordered or has planned to fix the situation at Coffee Creek which has dragged on for months.

Elisabeth Shepard, a spokesperson for Kotek, said in an email that the advocacy group brings an “important voice” to the governor’s  Advisory Panel on Gender Responsive Practices in Corrections, which is coming up with recommended fixes at Coffee Creek.

But Shepard declined to answer  questions about whether any agency managers have been fired or sanctioned or whether Kotek plans to apologize to inmates who have been harmed as the center wants.

“No comment,” Shepard texted a Capital Chronicle reporter after receiving an email with questions.

Kotek’s communications director, An Do, and Mia Ruston, an aide for corrections issues in the governor’s office, also didn’t answer questions from the Capital Chronicle.

And Amber Campbell, a spokesperson for the corrections agency, also did not answer detailed questions about the report. The agency will have “more specific information” to share about its work at Coffee Creek in May, when the agency is due to send an update to the governor’s office, Campbell said.

FEATURED IMAGE:  The outside of Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. The facility is Oregon’s only women’s prison. (Ben Botkin/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

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