Residents of Oregon's oldest prison recently received a debit card letting them use the money they earn in jobs onsite to make phone calls. But the high prices they were hit with, along with other complaints about prison conditions, sparked an unusual days-long boycott of the prison's telephones and its canteen--the OSP equivalent of a convenience store.
"There was a little bit of a bump in the road there, but I think it is behind us at this point," says prison spokesman Mike Yoder, who says phone calls and canteen sales were "dramatically reduced."
Yoder says the boycott stopped after officials modified the phone-card program to meet inmates' concerns, but not before 17 of them, suspected of intimidating other inmates into joining the boycott, were put in segregated cells.
As part of the crackdown, Department of Corrections officers reportedly searched cells looking for correspondence with the Western Prison Project, a Portland-based prisoner advocacy group. But Yoder says communicating with WPP would "not in itself" be cause for punishment.
The WPP's Brigette Sarabi says she has heard conflicting reports about mail confiscation. Overall, she says, the DOC seemingly is being responsive to inmate concerns, but the department's response to a largely peaceful boycott "seems a little heavy-handed," she says. "From the outside it's hard to say."