1 in 3 Oregon prison inmates have a mental illness, and 7 in 10 have substance issues, according to report

By Les Zaitz, The Oregonian, Nov. 11, 2013

Oregon State Penitentiary

Oregon State Penitentiary

One in three inmates in Oregon prisons have mental health issues, and their numbers are growing, according to data from the state Corrections Department.

The agency’s latest inmate profile, published monthly, counted 4,672 inmates who need mental health treatment. That’s up 17 percent from five years ago, when the count was 3,991.

READInmate Population Profile, Nov. 2013 (PDF, 40KB)

Research at Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem found that “psychiatric medications are a primary form of treatment within the penitentiary for mental illness, either serious mental illness, or minor mental illnesses.” The dissertation was done by Joseph Galanek.

READThe Social and Cultural Context of Mental Illness in Prison, by Joseph Galanek, MA, MPH (PDF, 737KB)

The monthly profiles are posted on the agency’s website without comment, but they provide rich details about Oregon’s prison population. The latest numbers are a snapshot as of Nov. 1 for 14,707 inmates.

According to the report, the top five crimes that earn prison sentences:

  • Assault – 1,930
  • Sex abuse – 1,714
  • Robbery – 1,674
  • Homicide – 1,605
  • Burglary – 1,397

The total sent to prison for sex abuse jumped 12 percent in five years, moving that crime to the No. 2 spot from No. 4.

Substance abuse plays a key role in landing inmates in prison, the data show. Currently, 10,618 inmates have substance abuse issues. That’s 7 out of 10. Some 2,800 inmates are in prison for drug charges, although 1,977 have other charges as well. The number of inmates in for drug charges grew 21 percent the past five years.

The agency also reported 820 inmates who are 61 or older. That’s an increase of 41 percent in five years, and prison officials expect the senior population to continue growing. This segment is especially challenging in a prison environment because older inmates typically need much more expensive medical care.

Other key numbers from the November report:

  • 630 are serving life sentences, 184 are serving life without parole, and Death Row holds 35.
  • 281 inmates are classified as developmentally disabled.
  • 37 inmates are serving sentences for escape.
  • The gender breakdown is 13,436 men, 1,271 women.
  • One inmate is 17 or younger.