Coffee Creek women’s prison focuses on rehabilitation programs

Ava Wittman, Co-Copy/Co-News Editor

Incarceration in America is something we hear about all the time, but most of us know very little. There are daily headlines about the death penalty, mandatory minimums and the war on drugs, but the inner-workings of prisons remains a mystery to all but a few. This sense of mystery strikes especially close to any Tualatin student that has driven far enough down Grahams Ferry to encounter Coffee Creek Correctional Facility and had absolutely no idea what goes on there. 

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is Oregon’s only women’s prison with 820 beds. The facility also serves as an in-take facility, where prisoners await assignment to a prison. That section of the facility has over 400 beds for inmates of all genders. Coffee Creek has both a minimum security section and a medium security section. As suggested by the term “correctional facility,” Coffee Creek does not exist as a space for the sole purpose of punishing society’s offenders, but rather focuses on rehabilitation and programs readying inmates for the return to life outside. This includes drug/alcohol rehabilitation, psychiatric treatment, life-skills classes, work based education, library services, production sewing and website analysis. One notable focus is the LIFE program, which is a 32-week program that assists women in developing skills necessary to succeed in the business and entrepreneurial worlds. This is a mission the program leads are passionate about, due to the 79 percent of incarcerated women that report a history of physical abuse and the 67 percent that report sexual abuse. 

Two-thirds of inmates at Coffee Creek are mothers, so the prison offers parenting and familial courses in order to support incarcerated mothers and teach them how to be the best they can be for their children when they leave the facility. 

Many of us may have become accustomed to the assumption that prison is and should be a horrid place, tasked with “punishing” those incarcerated for their transgressions. Through Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, however, we may be seeing a new – perhaps even more effective – form of incarceration focused on the inmates’ lives once released from prison, rather than on making their lives inside miserable. The LIFE program has resulted in a reduction in recidivism – when prisoners re-enter prison after leaving – from 25 percent to 12.5 percent at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, with 90 percent of their graduates finding employment within 30 days after their release. 

While pop culture tends to play up the idea of dangerous criminals on death row, there is a far darker reality than the single death-row cell within the prison’s walls. Tony Daniel Klein, a former nurse at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, is currently facing 25 criminal charges, the bulk of which involve subjecting the inmates  to cruel and unusual punishment. In 12 of the 21 charges against him, he is accused of having sexually assaulted inmates.

Coffee Creek Correctional Facility can serve as both a center for rehabilitation and for helping women transition to prosperous lives outside of prison. But it can also illustrate the abuse of prisoners that can occur on the inside, a perspective that might sneak up on all of us, hiding on the outskirts of Tualatin.