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Lawsuit filed over cruel, unusual punishment

ROSEBURG — Conditions at the Douglas County Jail were grim — one inmate even had another one break her arm to get out — but when Terri Carlisle was accused of hoarding her medication for a nerve disorder, it got even worse, according to Carlisle and a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

Carlisle says she was put as punishment into a hot, stinking cell crammed with around eight other women, with one open toilet. For six days, she was not let out. Some of the women in that cell were menstruating but were not given hygiene products, and there wasn't enough toilet paper, Carlisle said. Medicine to relieve her peripheral neuropathy was withheld as punishment, causing sharp pains.

"We were allowed no dignity, no self-respect," Carlisle said in an interview with The Associated Press. "There's a difference between discipline and abuse. They need to be stopped."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and the Criminal Justice Reform Clinic at Lewis and Clark Law School filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Eugene, saying Carlisle's civil rights were violated under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.

"In our criminal system currently, incarceration is punishment — separation from family, community, professional circles, but it's not the kind of nasty conditions and torture that our client experienced," Kelly Simon, an ACLU of Oregon staff attorney, told AP in a phone interview.

There was no immediate response Tuesday to the AP from those named in the lawsuit.

An AP investigative report last year showed that jails in America often operate independently with little to no oversight. From 1970 to 2014, the average daily number of inmates in county jails increased four-fold, to 690,000, while the number of women inmates increased 14-fold, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. Most women are jailed for low-level, nonviolent offenses.

Carlisle, who lives in Roseburg, the Douglas County seat, is an unemployed former health-care worker. Her mother died and her brother committed suicide, which she said led to her heavy drinking, resulting in three arrests for driving under the influence in a short span. She was sentenced in 2015 to six months in jail.

"I made a terrible mistake, but believe me my debt is paid," Carlisle said. "... that doesn't make it OK for them to take it upon themselves to treat me like I'm less than human."

The lawsuit says the first half of Carlisle's incarceration went without incident. She was allowed to go outside with inmate crews to do landscaping and other work.

Terry Carlisle looks at the Douglas County Jail on May 24 in Roseburg where she was incarcerated under what she describes as horrific conditions in 2015 for drunken driving. [AP Photo/Andrew Selsky]