Prisons often withhold death reportsBy The Associated Press
Published: February 14. 2012 4:00AM PST
SALEM — Seventy-nine inmates in Oregon prisons died over a two-year span, but the state Department of Corrections made only one of those deaths public.
The prisons agency has no plan to change its policy of making public only those deaths of “certain high-profile or notorious inmates,” the Salem Statesman Journal reported Monday.
The newspaper was able to compile information about the other deaths from internal prison reports obtained through public records law, court filings and other documents.
Most inmates were dead of natural causes, but among the unreported deaths in 2010-11 was a prisoner who died of a suspected drug overdose and a convict who cut his wrist.
The DOC also did not report deaths due to natural causes in the system that holds 14,000 inmates.
Another death involved Richard Gifford, 22, who was developmentally disabled and died in a segregation cell at the state penitentiary in May 2010. An autopsy determined that he died of an “intravenous injection of undetermined drug or toxin.”
Gifford’s mother has filed a federal civil rights suit against the state, alleging that prison mental health workers failed to properly treat him and ignored his warnings that he was suicidal. It also alleges that staff members in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit frequently failed to make required checks on the inmate.
The department withheld reports on his death, citing the litigation.
The department did issue a news release when Shelly Resnick died in her cell in May at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, where she was serving time from Multnomah County for stealing checks from her work as a courier company employee.
She hanged herself, the medical examiner’s office reported.
“We posted the passing of Shelly Resnick because her crime and conviction was covered by the media, and we thought it would be of particular interest,” said Jennifer Black, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department.
She said the department gives state legislative leaders quarterly reports on inmate deaths and submits inmate-death data periodically to the U.S. Department of Justice’s statistics bureau.
The prison system has 14,000 inmates in 14 prisons throughout the state.
The Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem had the largest number of inmate deaths during 2010-11, with 31, followed by 23 at the Snake River Correctional Institution near Ontario, 11 at the Two Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, five at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, four at the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem and two at Coffee Creek.
Three prisons each had a single death during the same time period: Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, South Fork Forest Camp in the Coast Range and Deer Ridge Correctional Institution near Madras.