Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is the only women's prison in the state.
Coffee Creek Correctional Facility is the only women's prison in the state. GOOGLE MAPS

The first research survey conducted inside Oregon’s only women’s prison suggests there are links between intimate partner violence and incarceration. Reform advocates believe this data could help change the narrative around criminal justice in the state.

The survey of women incarcerated at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, released Wednesday by the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), found that among the women who were in a relationship at the time of their arrest, 65 percent were experiencing abuse. In many instances, that abuse directly led to their incarceration.

“He beat me up, took my $4,300,” said one anonymous woman in the report. “I was selling his stuff to get my money back and I got arrested for property crimes. They dropped his case.”

“My ex-husband told me I would get less time [than] him if I took all the charges,” said another woman. “And he was also very abusive.”

The two-part survey didn’t include enough participants to be considered statistically significant—of the roughly 1,200 people incarcerated at Coffee Creek, only 142 people participated in the first part, and 66 participated in the second part. Still, it offers a much-needed insight into the circumstances that can lead to women being incarcerated in Oregon.

“[Women have] remained largely outside the conversation of criminal justice reform,” said OJRC director Bobbin Singh. Singh noted that the Oregon women’s prison population is much smaller than the men’s population, which neared 15,000 in 2016. “The systems that we have are designed largely by men," he said.

Singh said that attracting more participants in this survey was difficult because of the planning and coordination required to set up a large meeting inside a prison. He said that OJRC and Portland State University (PSU)—which helped orchestrate the survey—are planning on conducting more surveys at Coffee Creek with larger sample sizes in the future.

While the first part of the survey focuses on the link between partner abuse and incarceration, the second part explores how likely incarcerated women are to have a history of trauma. Seventy-five percent of participants said they’d been sexually abused as teenagers. According to RAINN, only 11 percent of the general adult female population in the US experienced sexual abuse as a child.

Eighty-four percent of Coffee Creek respondents had been physically abused at some point in their adult lives, and 55 percent had been sexually abused as an adult.

One anonymous women at Coffee Creek interviewed by OJRC succinctly summed up the link between trauma and incarceration like this: “Trauma caused me to numb the pain with drugs. Drugs caused me to commit crime. Crime is why I’m here.”

When asked what services they’d like to see at Coffee Creek, respondents requested trauma counseling, abuse survivor classes, and classes focused on self-esteem and “realistic re-entry” into society.

The report’s conclusion focuses on possible solutions, including changing crime sentencing policy, and collaboration between the Oregon Department of Corrections and community-based organizations that help abuse survivors.

The OJRC plans to share the survey’s findings with lawmakers in Salem, and hopes it can help shape the conversation moving forward.

“We have to figure out a way,” Singh said, “to allow the nuances of these [women’s] histories to be considered.”