Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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The Denver Post
The Colorado House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would restrict prison officials from placing inmates in "long term" solitary confinement if they are mentally ill.
The bill, introduced following the slaying of prisons chief Tom Clements last year, already passed the Senate. Clements was killed by a parolee who spent several years in administrative segregation, also known as solitary.
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.
If the bill is enacted into law, the Colorado Department of Corrections would have 90 days to evaluate all offenders in solitary confinement.
If the department determines the offender is mentally ill, the state would have to move them to a step-down unit, a prison for the mentally ill or other housing.
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill is important for offenders in solitary confinement who are mentally ill, but he added that it will come with costs. According to the current amendment those costs will be about $1.6 million a year.
"Keeping mentally ill patients out of administrative segregation is crucial," agreed Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver. "But there is so much more to be done."
Kellie Wasko, deputy executive director of CDOC, said that 1,979 Colorado inmates, or about one in 10, have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness and of those 1,400 are in the general population.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Lucia Guzman D-Denver, and Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, and Rep. Joseph A. Salazar of Thornton.
"Warehousing prisoners with mental illness in long-term solitary confinement is a cruel, costly and unlawful practice that unnecessarily jeopardizes public safety," said Denise Maes, the American Civil Liberties Union's Colorado public policy director.
In testimony Maes said rehabilitation strategies are critical, because 97 percent of prisoners will be released into communities.
She said solitary confinement cells are a bit bigger than a king-size bed and offenders stay there more than 22 hours a day where they "sleep, eat and defecate — one lives their entire daily life in that cell."
at 6:22 AM
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Warning Extremely Graphic
With extraordinary access, award-winning producer and director Dan Edge takes you to the epicenter of the raging debate about prison reform. "Solitary Nation" offers an up-close, graphic look at a solitary confinement unit in Maine’s maximum-security prison with firsthand accounts from prisoners and staff whose lives are forever altered by this troubled system.
at 11:07 PM
Monday, March 17, 2014
at 3:48 PM
Sunday, March 16, 2014
The Denver Post
One year after a parolee killed state prisons director Tom Clements, life behind bars — and beyond — is far different for Colorado convicts. After years of declining prison populations — reductions that Clements had trumpeted — the number of inmates has risen in the past year as a direct result of his slaying.
Among the factors:
- The Colorado Parole Board granted an average of 24 fewer discretionary paroles per month, an 8 percent decrease.
- Authorities cracked down on technical violations by parolees. The parole board, acting on recommendations of parole officers, increased by 37 parolees a month, or 14 percent, the number it sent back to prison for rule violations such as missing curfews and drinking beer.
- The newly formed Fugitive Apprehension Unit has also rounded up 415 parole absconders across the state, including one who was particularly difficult to find because he was living in Quartzsite, Ariz., as a woman the past six years.
Prison officials have sharply reduced the number of inmates being held in solitary confinement, also known as administrative segregation, where Evan Ebel, the parolee who killed Clements,
Read more: Prison system clamps down following Colorado prison chief's murder - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_25353091/prison-system-clamps-down-following-colorado-prison-chiefs#ixzz2w89Q8gh7
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at 7:04 AM
Friday, March 14, 2014
Interview with Rick Raemisch on limiting solitary confinement
It’s been nearly a year since Tom Clements, then the head of Colorado’s prisons, was murdered, allegedly by a former inmate. Rick Raemisch, the man who succeeded Clements, is determined to continue efforts Clements started to reform the prison system.
at 3:14 PM
Sunday, March 09, 2014
The Archipelago of Pain | Opinion | The Seattle Times
We don’t flog people in our prison system, or put them in thumbscrews
or stretch them on the rack. We do, however, lock prisoners away in
social isolation for 23 hours a day, often for months, years or decades
at a time.
We prohibit the former and permit the latter because we make a
distinction between physical and social pain. But, at the level of the
brain where pain resides, this is a distinction without a difference.
Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles, compared
the brain activities of people suffering physical pain with people
suffering from social pain. As he writes in his book, “Social,” “Looking
at the screens side by side ... you wouldn’t have been able to tell the
The brain processes both kinds of pain in similar ways. Moreover, at
the level of human experience, social pain is more traumatic, more
destabilizing and inflicts more cruel and long-lasting effects than
physical pain. What we’re doing to prisoners in extreme isolation is
arguably more inhumane than flogging.
Yet inflicting extreme social pain is more or less standard procedure
in America’s prisons. Something like 80,000 prisoners are put in
solitary confinement every year. Prisoners isolated in super-maximum
facilities are often locked away in a 6-foot by 9-foot or 8-foot by
10-foot barren room. They may be completely isolated in that room for
two days a week. For the remaining five, they may be locked away for 23
hours a day and permitted an hour of solitary exercise in a fenced-in
If there is communication with the prison staff, it might take place
through an intercom. Communication with the world beyond is minimal. If
there are visitors, conversation may be conducted through a video
screen. Prisoners may go years without affectionately touching another
human being. Their only physical contact will be brushing up against a
guard as he puts on shackles for trips to the exercise yard.
In general, mammals do not do well in isolation. In the 1950s, Harry
Harlow studied monkeys who had been isolated. The ones who were isolated
for longer periods went into emotional shock, rocking back and forth.
One in six refused to eat after being reintegrated and died within five
days. Most of the rest were permanently withdrawn.
Studies on birds, rats and mice consistently show isolated animals
suffer from impoverished neural growth compared with socially engaged
animals, especially in areas where short-term memory and threat
perception are processed. Studies on Yugoslav prisoners of war in 1992
found those who had suffered blunt blows to the head and those who had
been socially isolated suffered the greatest damage to brain
Some prisoners who’ve been in solitary confinement are scarcely
affected by it. But this is not typical. The majority of prisoners in
solitary suffer severely — from headaches, an oversensitivity to
stimuli, digestion problems, loss of appetite, self-mutilation, chronic
dizziness, loss of the ability to concentrate, hallucinations, illusions
or paranoid ideas.
The psychiatrist Stuart Grassian conducted in-depth interviews with
more than 200 prisoners in solitary and concluded that about a third
developed acute psychosis with hallucinations. According to rough
estimates, as many as half the suicides in prison take place in
solitary, even though isolated prisoners make up only about 5 percent of
Prison officials argue that they need isolation to preserve order.
But the research on the effectiveness of solitary confinement programs
is ambiguous at best. There’s a fair bit of evidence to suggest that
prison violence is not produced mainly by a few bad individuals who can
be removed from the mainstream. Rather, violence is caused by conditions
and prison culture. If there’s crowding, a culture of violence, and
anarchic or arbitrary power, the context itself is going to create
violence no matter how many “bad seeds” are segregated away.
Fortunately, we seem to be at a moment when public opinion is
turning. Last month, the executive director of the Colorado prisons,
Rick Raemisch, wrote a moving first-person Op-Ed article in The Times
about his short, voluntary stay in solitary. Colorado will no longer
send prisoners with severe mental illnesses into solitary. New York
officials recently agreed to new guidelines limiting the time prisoners
can spend in isolation. Before long, one suspects, extreme isolation
will be unacceptable.
The larger point is we need to obliterate the assumption that inflicting social pain is OK because it’s not real pain.
When you put people in prison, you are imposing pain on them. But
that doesn’t mean you have to gouge out the nourishment that humans need
for health, which is social, emotional and relational.
© , New York Times News Service
David Brooks is a regular columnist for The New York Times.
at 8:08 AM