SALEM, Ore. -- Inmates at four Oregon prisons were fed "green meat and moldy, spoiled food" and bait fish marked "not for human consumption," according to a class action lawsuit filed against Oregon Department of Corrections officials.
The complaint, which was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, listed current and former inmates as plaintiffs. It alleges the unsafe, unsanitary and neglectful behavior took place in the kitchens of the Oregon State Penitentiary, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Two Rivers Correctional Institution and Columbia River Correction Institution.
Combined, the four prisons house about 6,000 inmates — almost 40 percent of the state's prison population.
Oregon Department of Corrections spokeswoman Betty Bernt said it is the department's policy to not to comment on matters of pending litigation.
The inmates named in the complaint said they were given two options: Eat the "putrid food" or starve.
One former inmate, Bridgette Lewis, said she witnessed spoiled food being prepared and served to her fellow inmates when she worked in Coffee Creek's kitchen. She handled boxes of bait fish marked "not fit for human consumption" and watched as the fish was ground up and served on a plate that reeked and tasted horrible, according to the complaint.
When she complained to prison officials, she was allegedly ordered to keep serving the substandard food.
Inmates also reported seeing green and gray spotted meats, sour milk, wilted lettuce, moldy bread and rotten chicken.
After eating, the inmates reported regularly feeling nausea, pain and intestinal distress.
The complaint also alleges that before state health inspections, officials would direct inmate workers to remove the unfit and spoiled food and put it in mobile refrigerator trucks. After the inspection, they were allegedly ordered to return the food back to the kitchen.
The complaint said the actions of the named defendants, which includes DOC Director Colette Peters, acting deputy director Brian Belleque and OSP superintendent Brandon Kelly, were outrageous, showed deliberate indifference and allowed ongoing, long-term pain, suffering, likely illness and malnutrition.
By providing spoiled and substandard food to inmates, officials treated them as "though they were farm animals," according to the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges these prison conditions violated inmates' constitutional rights.
The former inmates, represented by Portland lawyer Leonard Berman, are seeking economic and non-economic damages as well as trying to compel prison officials to provide constitutionally adequate nutrition and food sanitation for those still incarcerated.
The complaint requested a jury trial, and the case was assigned to federal Judge Michael Simon. No hearings have been scheduled.
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