Douglas County’s Jail Faces Scrutiny After Recent String of Inmate Deaths

It’s an eerie reflection of what’s happening in Multnomah County.

Roseburg. (Manuela Durson /Shutterstock)

The arrival in April of a nearly dead patient at Oregon State Hospital, first reported on, has provoked new scrutiny of the state’s treatment of mentally ill criminal defendants. Federal regulators slammed the hospital in a report released last week, citing “systemic failures” that led to a delayed assessment of the man’s condition in the minutes before he died.

But a bigger question remains: Why was Skye Baskin, under the watch of Douglas County sheriff’s deputies, in such wretched condition to begin with?

That’s something Disability Rights Oregon now says it will investigate. But, in the meantime, what WW has found at the jail is an eerie reflection of what’s happening in Multnomah County’s jails, where an influx of illicit drugs and severe mental illness have overwhelmed administrators and left them unable to keep inmates safe.

Since 2022, 10 people have died in Multnomah County’s jails. In Douglas County, which has a jail a quarter the size of Portland’s downtown jail, five people have died.

Here’s what we know about why:


Baskin, 27, was arrested in March wandering through traffic on Interstate 5. When Baskin, clearly in a mental health crisis, failed to comply with a state trooper’s commands, he was taken to jail on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

He spent six weeks there, before being transferred to Oregon State Hospital, where he arrived completely limp and unresponsive. But nurses didn’t check his pulse until he’d been moved to a bed inside the facility, a delay that, among other problems, “likely contributed to [his] harm and death,” according to federal inspectors.

But Baskin’s public defender, Angelina Hollingsworth, says responsibility for Baskin’s condition ultimately lies with Douglas County officials. “Our jail is just not giving medical treatment,” she says.

Skye Baskin (Facebook) (facebook)


The jail’s spokesperson has not responded to WW’s questions about the incident. But local mental health advocates echo Hollingsworth’s concerns.

“It’s a hot mess,” says Darlene Brooks, a volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Douglas County. She says she routinely has to fight for inmates to get psychiatric medication.

“They don’t have mental health treatment, they don’t have counselors, some of them get solitary confinement,” she says.


According to public records reviewed by WW, some held by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission and others records obtained by Reuters, deaths in Douglas County’s 283-bed jail were once a rare occurrence. One death in 2010. Then another 2014. But, in 2022, something changed. There have been five deaths in the past two and half years—not counting Baskin’s.

The county has released little information about those deaths. But, WW has learned, two raised suspicions of mistreatment.

The first was the earliest of the recent streak of deaths. Darin McCafferty, a 56-year-old California man suffering from bipolar disorder, died in the jail in May 2022.

He’d been arrested after refusing to leave a local casino. The police officer, after hearing a long rant from McCafferty about being the “son of God,” concluded he was having a mental breakdown. He was found dead in his cell four days later.

His widow, Elisabeth McCafferty, says she tried and failed to get law enforcement to force her husband into treatment prior to his arrest. “People who are in a mental health crisis,” she says, “belong in a hospital and not a jail cell.”

The other death under scrutiny occurred only a few days before Baskin’s. Derek Ruh, 33, died of a suspected overdose, according to county officials.

But Matthew Kaplan, a Portland lawyer who specializes in jail negligence cases and is looking into this one, isn’t so sure.

Kaplan says Ruh’s cellmate has reported that Ruh, who needed medication to avert seizures, had been trying to get deputies’ attention for hours prior to his death. The county has yet to release results of an autopsy. “It’s concerning,” Kaplan says.


As early as 2022, Douglas County officials knew their jails had a problem.

“Currently, many inmates with mental health needs do not receive treatment while in jail due to the limited availability of mental health services,” they wrote in an application for a federal grant.

Data, available to the county at the time, showed that 1 in 3 people booked into the facility “may have a serious mental illness.” Later, in September, county officials met to discuss the issue. “The need for mental health services is significant,” said an employee of the county’s jail health care contractor, Wellpath, according to minutes from the meeting.

The county won the grant, part of which went to Wellpath, which the county pays just over $1 million a year.

The sorts of concerns raised in Douglas County aren’t new for Wellpath, which is backed by private equity and contracts with jails and prisons in 34 states across the country.

Just last December, a dozen U.S. senators sent a letter to Wellpath’s leaders, noting that Wellpath, which serves a significant but dwindling number of counties across Oregon, has a history of throwing people with mental illness in solitary confinement and denying them needed medications. (Wellpath has said it’s accredited and follows the law.)

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