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Some Oregon inmates face long stretches of solitary confinement

Oregon inmates may face long bouts of solitary confinement. Several state prison inmates with severe mental illness are held in solitary confinement every day. A recent lawsuit naming corrections officers at the Oregon State Penitentiary also claims that solitary confinement is being used as punishment unlawfully.

What are the effects of solitary confinement?

Solitary confinement is a type of imprisonment where inmates are held in isolated cells for 22 to 24 hours a day. They receive no sunlight and have limited contact with other people. Time spent in solitary confinement can range from days to tens-of-years. The effect of isolated confinement can be detrimental to a person’s mind.

Studies have shown that long-term isolation in prison can cause a psychiatric syndrome with effects such as hallucinations, paranoia, difficulty thinking and diminished memory. Self-injury is a major concern for isolated inmates. Solitary confinement has been shown to be especially damaging to people suffering mental illness. Extreme isolation can cause a person’s mental illness to seriously degrade.

Most often, prisoners in solitary lose the ability to incorporate activity and purpose in their lives, resulting in apathy and depression. Once released from solitary confinement, adjustment can be challenging. Inmates find it hard to socialize after being left isolated for so long.

Inmates held in solitary confinement may be wrongfully convicted

Corrections officers at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem are named in a civil rights lawsuit claiming abuse and unlawful use of solitary confinement. The lawsuit claims that staff from the maximum-security facility fabricated evidence to use solitary confinement as punishment. The plaintiffs include two men who were held in solitary confinement for extended periods of time for separate non-violent incidents.

One of the two plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Rafael Mora-Contreras, is serving a life-long sentence for murder; however, he has been granted a retrial based on new judicial findings. He may be exonerated by the state or a jury after serving 15 years of his life sentence.

Other inmates in Oregon state prison may be in similar situations. Inmates who are wrongly convicted do have options for help. If appeals are unfavorable, inmates can seek post-conviction relief, where they may be granted a reduced sentence, a new trial or other forms of relief.

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