Disability Rights in Oregon Prisons, Focus of CJRC Project
Students working at the Lewis & Clark Criminal Justice Reform Clinic (CJRC) assisted Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) last semester to produce a ‘Know Your Rights’ self-advocacy brochure for people with disabilities who are incarcerated in Oregon prisons.
Austin Buhl ’19 conducted research and communicated with DRO staff to help draft the brochure as one of his clinic projects.
The brochure seeks to help prisoners with disabilities protect their legal rights by addressing issues of discrimination, access to physical and medical accommodation, segregated housing and post-prison voting rights.
“People with disabilities are dramatically overrepresented in the nation’s prisons and jails today and are often unaware of their rights while incarcerated,” said Aliza Kaplan, director of CJRC and professor of lawyering. “Both DRO and CJRC regularly receive correspondence from inmates with disabilities requesting information about their rights.”
State and private institutional facilities that serve people with disabilities have been closing precipitously over the last 50 years. While necessary and generally positive, this deinstitutionalization has been coupled with a lack of alternative services and facilities to support individuals with disabilities, many of whom have mental health conditions.
“As a result, many began to be swept up into the criminal justice system, often due to minor infractions such as sleeping on the sidewalk,” Kaplan said. “Jails and prisons are now filled with more people with mental health conditions than state mental hospitals ever were.”
For CJRC students at Lewis & Clark Law School, projects like this one allow students to learn about a specific field of law by directly interacting with attorneys at the forefront and contributing to a project with real-world impact.
“Partnering for this project gives students an opportunity to meet and work with attorneys from another organization,” said Kaplan. “Knowing that inmates and advocates around the state will be using and relying on their work means a lot to the students and the clinic.”
CJRC has worked with DRO on a number of projects in the past including last year’s research report, “A Merry Go Round that Never Stops: Mental Illness in the Multnomah County Detention Center.”