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February 22nd, 2006 Angela Valdez | Q & A
 

Bill Hoefel

How this man runs the state's only women's prison.

     
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Bill Hoefel
Since the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility for women opened in Wilsonville in 2002, the population for Oregon's only female prison has nearly doubled to just over 1,000 inmates this year. Corrections officials attribute the growth in Oregon's female prison populations to longer sentences mandated by 1994's Measure 11, which gives judges less freedom to set shorter prison terms.

With such surging numbers, we thought it was time to grill Coffee Creek's male superintendent about his bulging henhouse. We also took it upon ourselves to ask Hoefel about a few vital statistics. He didn't blush.

The women of Coffee Creek have given birth to 75 babies since it opened. In the last two-year budget cycle, the prison distributed 730,750 sanitary napkins, which works out to an astonishing 60 pads per inmate per menstrual cycle (inmates who prefer tampons have to buy them from the prison canteen).

Are the excess pads used as quilting material for more comfy bedding or as underground currency, à la cigarettes? Hoefel says he's heard they're used as cheap insoles for shoes. Here's what else he said.

WW: How can a man know what women need in prison?

Bill Hoefel: This would have been a lot better question two years ago, when I came back as superintendent. Though I've certainly never experienced life as a woman, I do have a wife and four daughters. I think I'm a pretty good listener. And I am surrounded by a staff of 400 people who come from all walks of life.

So how are women's needs in prison different from men's?

One is communication. Men typically are a little more straightforward. Women are more verbal. For instance, give an assignment to a male, Say, "Go do this," you'll get: "OK, boss," and he'll go do it. Whereas you may get multiple questions from a female inmate like, "Why is there a need to do this?" You gotta spend more time. The emotional needs are a bit different.

How?

There's a lot more they're dealing with. The men may have families, as well—but the woman may be dealing with day care, child care, who their children are placed with while they're here. They're trying to work through the counselors, the court systems, the Department of Human Services, whether their children were considered victims of their crime, whether they're going to be allowed contact.

Do the mental-health and domestic-violence issues that affect women make you look at crime differently?

There are times when I know stories of inmates and I think to myself, "And you're locked up?"

Do you think some women may sometimes be taking the fall for a bigger criminal?

I don't know if I would say a person was a bigger criminal. Whoever's committed, we take them. They broke the law.

What problems does the growth of female prisoners present?

If you have conflicts among inmates, you can't transfer them around the state. We have to manage that internally, 'cause there is nowhere else to send them.

Do you have any babies conceived here?

No. Oregon was one of two states that did not have a staff sexual-misconduct law until this last legislative session. Now, it is a felony.

What do you do to prevent staff sexual misconduct?

Training about co-gender supervision. Training about boundaries with offenders. It also happens with male inmates and female staff. Or male staff. Unfortunately, people are people. People work together eight hours a day, five days a week, and it's gonna happen.

Does it happen in your prison?

Yeah. We had two highly publicized cases shortly after I got here. We have not had an incident since the new law went into effect in July.

Oregon has the death penalty. Do you think women should get it?

Well, I think it should be applied evenly. Professionally, honestly, I don't really have an opinion. If the inmate is sentenced, it's not for me to decide. Me as a citizen, and how I choose to vote, that's a private matter. We currently have no women with the death sentence.


Hoefel, 51, started at Coffee Creek as an assistant superintendent when it opened and became its superintendent in 2003, after a short stint at the state Department of Corrections' Salem office. Hoefel has also worked in prisons for men.
 
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