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caption: <p>One of the new treatment rooms/classrooms at the behavioral health unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary.</p> 
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One of the new treatment rooms/classrooms at the behavioral health unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary.

New Mental Health Unit Opens At Oregon State Penitentiary

The Oregon Department of Corrections cut the ribbon on a new behavioral health unit at the state penitentiary in Salem on Friday.

A couple of years ago, an investigation by Disability Rights Oregon found that inmates with mental illness at the state penitentiary spent only about an hour a day outside their cells.

Now, by lifting nine mobile buildings over the prison wall, the state has opened a new unit so those inmates can get more treatment and take classes.

Corrections Department Director Colette Peters said inmates are now getting almost two hours a day outside cells.

“That doesn’t go far enough for any of us, it doesn’t go far enough for those of you working on those units, or the superintendent or Disability Rights Oregon because we have loftier goals,” Peters said.

Tom Stenson with Disability Rights Oregon said the goal is about three hours a day. “The more time we can get people out of their cells, the more likely they’ll get healthier,” he said.

He said that is good for inmates, prison staff and eventually the community.

The Oregon Legislature appropriated $5.2 million in 2016 for the project. Between the 2015–17 and 2017–19 biennia, the Department of Corrections had spent $2.3 million on the building itself.

The building is about 6,830 square feet, will house 13 qualified mental health professionals, and has two physicians' offices, one counselor's office and four treatment classrooms. [Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting]