Nearly half of Oregon's 14,000 prisoners — 6,797 — are mentally ill, according to the Department of Corrections.
Alarmed by the rising number of mentally ill convicts, prison officials plan to create a new multipurpose mental health center at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, just south of the state hospital.
The penitentiary's "super max" unit, officially called the Intensive Management Unit, will be converted into three therapy-minded units.
For two decades, the IMU has operated as a tightly controlled compound within the now-2,000-inmate prison. It corrals belligerent and disruptive inmates — some mentally ill — in their cells for more than 23 hours per day.
By the end of this year, the two-story IMU facility will get a facelift to soften its austere environment, and will begin serving a therapeutic role.
"With the types of programs we want to bring in there, we need to bring in some acoustic sound proofing and lighten it up with some paint," said Brian Belleque, DOC administrator for the west side institutions.
Mental health services are planned for three of the four units in the IMU building: