Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

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

Man spends 16 years in solitary for a crime he did not commit







The United States Department of Justice -- Clemency Initiative

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole at the Press Conference Announcing the Clemency Initiative
Washington, D.C. ~ Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Good morning and thank you all for being here.  I am pleased to announce a Department of Justice initiative to encourage qualified federal inmates to petition to have their sentences commuted, or reduced, by the President of the United States.
 
Last year, the Attorney General launched a new “Smart on Crime” initiative.  Smart on Crime was conceived with an eye toward addressing the crises caused by a vastly overcrowded prison population and with a goal of redirecting some of the dollars we spend on prisons to prosecutors and law enforcement agents working to keep our streets safer.  It is designed to strengthen the criminal justice system, promote public safety, and deliver on the promise of equal justice under law. 
 
In 2010, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced unfair disparities in sentences for offenses involving crack cocaine.  But the Fair Sentencing Act did not apply to those who were sentenced before its passage.  And now there are many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime.  The fundamental American concept, equal justice under law, requires that our laws be enforced fairly – and not just going forward, but it is equally important that we extend this fairness to those who are already serving prison sentences for their crimes.
 
Last December, President Obama took steps toward addressing this situation by granting commutations to eight men and women who had each served more than 15 years in prison for crack cocaine offenses.  For two of these individuals, it was the first conviction they’d ever received – yet, due to mandatory guidelines that were considered severe at the time, and are out of date today – they and four others had received life sentences.  Since that time, the President has indicated that he wants to be able to consider additional, similar applications for commutation of sentence, to restore a degree of fairness and proportionality for deserving individuals.  The Justice Department is committed to responding to the President’s directive by finding additional candidates who are similarly situated to those granted clemency last year, and recommending qualified applicants for reduced sentences.
 
We are launching this clemency initiative in order to quickly and effectively identify appropriate candidates, candidates who have a clean prison record, do not present a threat to public safety, and were sentenced under out-of-date laws that have since been changed, and are no longer seen as appropriate.  While those sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act may be the most obvious candidates, this initiative is not limited to crack offenders.  Rather, the initiative is open to candidates who meet six criteria:  they must be (1) inmates who are currently serving a federal sentence in prison and, by operation of law, likely would have received a substantially lower sentence if convicted of the same offense today; (2) are non-violent, low-level offenders without significant ties to large-scale criminal organizations, gangs, or cartels; (3) have served at least 10 years of their sentence; (4) do not have a significant criminal history; (5) have demonstrated good conduct in prison; and (6) have no history of violence prior to or during their current term of imprisonment.
 
Identifying worthy candidates within our large prison population will be no easy feat. A good number of inmates will not meet the six criteria.  But we are dedicating significant time and resources to ensure that all potentially eligible petitions are reviewed and then processed quickly to ensure timely justice.
 
First, we have put in place an extensive screening mechanism.  Next week, the Bureau of Prisons is notifying all federal inmates of our initiative and providing them with these six criteria.  If an inmate believes he or she fits these six criteria, the Bureau of Prisons will provide them with an electronic survey to fill out that will allow Department lawyers to efficiently screen whether the petition merits further consideration.
 
Second, I am pleased to announce that all inmates who appear to meet these six criteria will be offered the assistance of an experienced pro bono attorney in preparing his or her application for clemency.  In January, I gave a speech to the New York State Bar Association in which I called upon private attorneys to volunteer to assist potential candidates in assembling commutation petitions – ones which provide a focused presentation of the information the Department and the President will consider – in order to meaningfully evaluate whether a petitioner qualifies under this initiative.  Since that time, dedicated and experienced criminal defense and nonprofit lawyers have responded to that call.  These numerous groups and individual attorneys, who are calling themselves Clemency Project 2014, will be working with inmates who appear to meet the six criteria and request the assistance of a lawyer.  I am very grateful for the work of these volunteers and am confident that their commitment and expertise will result in high-quality petitions that the Department of Justice will be able to process on a more efficient basis.
 
Third, the Department of Justice is detailing lawyers to the Pardon Attorney’s Office on a temporary basis to review applications for commutation submitted under this initiative.  These attorneys – importantly, to include those with experience as federal prosecutors – will provide the rigorous scrutiny that all clemency applications must undergo while providing the additional eyes necessary to review the numerous additional petitions that are invariably likely to be submitted.  In addition, we are taking the unusual step of working with the Federal Public Defender Service to try to get some of their attorneys detailed to the Pardon Attorney’s Office to support this initiative.  I will be personally involved in ensuring the Pardon Attorney’s office has the resources needed to make timely and effective recommendations to the President.
 
Fourth, once we have made a preliminary determination that a petition is worthy of serious consideration, we will consult with both the United States Attorney’s Office and the trial judge that handled the case to get their views on the propriety of granting the application.  
 
Finally, I want to thank Ron Rodgers for his service as the United States Pardon Attorney.  Over the past several years, Ron has performed admirably in what is a very tough job.  He has demonstrated dedication and integrity in his work on pardons and commutations.  In the tradition of Senior Executive Service attorneys in the Department, Ron has asked me to allow him to move on to another assignment within the Department.  I told him I would do that, but only after he helped with the transition to new leadership in the Pardon Attorney’s Office.  In that vein, I am pleased to announce that Deborah Leff will be coming in to lead the Pardon Attorney’s Office.   Debby has committed her career to the very basis of this initiative - achieving equal justice under law.  As Acting Senior Counselor for Access to Justice, her fundamental mission has been to help the justice system deliver outcomes that are fair and accessible to all.  She has worked to increase access to legal counsel and legal assistance for those who are unable to afford lawyers.  And, she has also been instrumental in the standing up of Clemency Project 2014.  Importantly, she is known in both the Department and the legal community as a dedicated advocate and public servant.  I am confident that she will do a wonderful job providing recommendations to me and the President on this initiative and on the clemency process going forward.
 
Let there be no mistake, this clemency initiative should not be understood to minimize the seriousness of our federal criminal law and is designed, first and foremost, with public safety in mind.  Even low-level offenders cause harm to people through their criminal actions, and many need to be incarcerated.  Our prosecutors and law enforcement agents worked diligently and honorably to collect evidence and charge these defendants, and then fairly and effectively obtained their convictions.  These defendants were properly held accountable for their criminal conduct.  However, some of them, simply because of the operation of sentencing laws on the books at the time, received substantial sentences that are disproportionate to what they would receive today.  Even the sentencing judges in many of these cases expressed regret at the time at having to impose such harsh sentences.  And several United States Attorneys are proactively providing names of individuals they believe should be part of this initiative.  Correcting these sentences is simply a matter of fairness that is fundamental to our principles at the Department, and is a commitment that all Department of Justice employees stand behind.
 
In the same vein, it is important to remember that commutations are not pardons.  They are not exonerations. They are not an expression of forgiveness.    Rather, as the President said, they are an “important step toward restoring fundamental ideals of justice and fairness.”  He noted that “many of [these individuals] would have already served their time and paid their debt to society” had they been sentenced under current law.  For our criminal justice system to be effective, it needs to not only be fair; but it also must be perceived as being fair.  These older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today's laws erode people’ s confidence in our criminal justice system.  I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals - equal justice under law.

House Judiciary passes bill to limit solitary confinement for mentally ill

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."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Solitary Nation

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. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

After 20 Hours in Solitary Colorado's Prison Chief Wins Praise

the New York Times

CAÑON CITY, Colo. — The cells where inmates are kept in solitary confinement at the state penitentiary here are 7-by-13-foot boxes arranged in semicircular tiers. When the warden, Travis Trani, heard that Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new chief of corrections, intended to spend a night in one of them, he had two reactions.
“I thought he was crazy,” Mr. Trani recalled. “But I also admired him for wanting to have the experience.”
Mr. Raemisch has been in his job for just over seven months, having stepped in after his predecessor was shot to death a year ago Tuesday by a former inmate who had spent years in solitary. During that time, Mr. Raemisch has gained a reputation as an outspoken reformer and has made clear that he wants to make significant changes in the way the state operates its prisons.
Mr. Trani was given only about nine hours’ notice, and he rushed to make arrangements. An upper-tier cell was selected so that if inmates recognized Mr. Raemisch, they could not pelt him with objects from above. A code phrase, “I need medical,” was agreed on for him to use if he felt unsafe. He was advised to lay his towel across the cell door to block “fishing” — prisoners’ sending notes or other items into his cell using a weighted piece of string.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Jan. 23, two corrections officers escorted Mr. Raemisch along the tier, removed his handcuffs and leg shackles, and slammed the door shut.
The directors of state prison systems tend to keep a low profile. But Mr. Raemisch’s brief prison stay — he spent 20 hours in the cell and wrote about the experience in an opinion piece in The New York Times last month — drew local and national headlines.
On Capitol Hill, where Mr. Raemisch told a Senate subcommittee last month that solitary confinement was “overused, misused and abused,” he was besieged by well-wishers, including representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, who joked that directors in other states might now want to take “the Colorado challenge.” Others, though, called his action a politically motivated stunt. “This guy is jive,” said Peter Boyles, a conservative talk radio host in Denver.
Mr. Raemisch, 60, is not the first corrections director to criticize the widespread reliance of American prisons on solitary confinement, the practice of locking prisoners alone in cells for 22 or more hours a day over a period of months, years or even decades. In the last two years, an increasing number of states, prodded by lawsuits, lower budgets and public opinion, have been rethinking the policy.
Tom Clements, Colorado’s previous executive director of corrections, was convinced that many inmates in segregation cells — Colorado made extensive use of solitary confinement — did not need to be there. He was particularly worried about the state’s habit of releasing some prisoners from long-term isolation directly onto the streets, with no transition. Mr. Clements’s killer, Evan S. Ebel, who died in a shootout later with the police, was one such prisoner.
To Mr. Raemisch, who was secretary of corrections in Wisconsin until newly elected Gov. Scott Walker moved him out of the post in 2011, the potential negative effects seemed obvious.
“You don’t have to spend much time in a prison talking to someone in a segregation cell to realize that something is inherently wrong with that,” he said, sitting one recent afternoon in his office in Colorado Springs, where photographs show him as a young narcotics detective standing next to giant marijuana plants and with a mountain lion he bagged on a hunting trip in Idaho. “Everything you know about treating human beings, that’s not the way to do it.”
By the time he died, Mr. Clements had cut the number of inmates in solitary confinement in half, to 726 from about 1,500. Mr. Raemisch has decreased that number to 577, and has moved all but a few inmates with serious mental illnesses into other settings.
But when Mr. Raemisch arrived in July, the Corrections Department, which runs 20 prisons for about 20,000 inmates, was itself in lockdown, the executive staff was in disarray and many of the programs initiated by Mr. Clements had been halted.
Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, who said he was impressed by Mr. Raemisch’s law enforcement background and by his determination to proceed slowly and with a constant eye to safety, asked him to pick up where Mr. Clements had left off.
“I was looking for someone who would not just carry it on but get it done,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “In your life, you only get so many people that are the right person at exactly the right time.”
Compact and barrel-chested, at home in sports jackets and striped T-shirts, Mr. Raemisch looks more like the cop he once was — he spent years as a deputy sheriff, a prosecutor and an elected sheriff before entering corrections — than the head of the state’s largest agency. Soft-spoken and cautious, a self-described “meat and potatoes man” who distrusts adventurous cuisine, he is prone to self-deprecation: At parties, he said, people head the other way when they hear what he does for a living. “Nobody wants to talk,” he said.
Before coming to Colorado, he had spent his entire life in Wisconsin, where his family has century-old roots; a plaque at Madison’s municipal airport commemorates his father, a longtime county board supervisor.
Mr. Raemisch’s staff members have gotten used to his directness, and to his sudden silences. “When he’s quiet, that’s when he’s at his best, because his wheels are turning,” said Kellie Wasko, his deputy.
Like Mr. Clements, Mr. Raemisch emphasizes that 97 percent of inmates will eventually be released.
“First and foremost, you have to understand that they’re going back, and it’s our job to get them prepared and determined to be law-abiding citizens when they go back,” he said. “I don’t want any new victims. That’s what drives me.”
But he has also pushed into territory where few others in his position have ventured. A memo sent to corrections staff this month described an ambitious agenda for the coming months, including allowing death row prisoners out of their cells for four hours a day and sending inmates to solitary confinement for specific lengths of time instead of indefinite periods. “They should know when they’re coming out,” Mr. Raemisch said.
He hopes to go further, making changes in the training of corrections officers, the preparation inmates receive before they are released and the way that corrections officers interact with inmates.
In Wisconsin, Mr. Raemisch’s views sometimes put him at odds with critics who accused him of being soft on crime. An early-release program he started there was called “catch and release” and “hug a thug” by some legislators.
But by that point in his career, the absolutes he saw as a young law enforcement officer had faded into more complex realities, he said. He had observed the criminal justice system from many angles, chasing down cocaine dealers on the streets of Madison, interviewing rape victims and seeing inmates in the county jail “sleeping on the floor, doing nothing all day long, in a system they couldn’t get out of.”
After a while, you realize that you spend most of your life in gray,” he said. “Or at least if you’re smart, you do.”
Now, Mr. Raemisch said, he favors anything that helps to rehabilitate inmates and decrease the chances that they will commit further crimes when they get out.
“If it works, we better be doing it,” he said. “We’re already doing things that don’t work.”
He was at his home in Wisconsin last March, preparing to go to work at Madison College, where he had taken a job as a dean after leaving state government, when he heard that Mr. Clements had been killed.
“It made me angry,” he said. “His purpose was really to help inmates, and to be killed by an inmate — it was just insulting to me.”
His predecessor’s violent death continues to shadow him. Having received death threats days after arriving in Colorado, he travels with a security detail and carries a gun on planes. His family has had to adjust to coexisting with bodyguards, a development his younger daughter is not entirely happy about.
“It’s pretty hard to form relationships when there’s guys with guns following you,” he said.
Advocates for crime victims worry that Mr. Raemisch is moving too fast and that public safety could be jeopardized. Prisoner advocacy groups complain that he is moving too slowly: Some inmates with mental illnesses, they say, are still kept in cells 22 hours a day without adequate treatment.
Mr. Raemisch said he was trying to find a balance between the two poles, stressing his concern for safety and reminding his critics that large bureaucracies move slowly.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
In Wisconsin, the thought of spending a night in a segregation cell never crossed his mind, Mr. Raemisch said, but in Colorado, it grew on him. He called Ms. Wasko on a Tuesday night to float the idea and was met with dead silence. “Hello, are you there?” he asked.
Ms. Wasko later said her first thought was “Why?” and her second, “I won’t bury another executive director.”
“Tom was inside his house” when he was killed, she said, referring to Mr. Clements. “Anything can happen under the roof of a prison.”
Mr. Raemisch said he was surprised that his day in solitary confinement had received so much notice.
“It was 20 hours,” he said. “If it would have been maybe even two days or a week, I would think, ‘Yeah, that would probably get someone’s attention.’ I might walk out stark raving mad, but it would get somebody’s attention.”



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Prison Clamps Down Following Colorado Prison Chief's Murder

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.
The nine-member team has tracked down offenders hiding across the country, from Alaska to Florida.
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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Friday, March 14, 2014

NPR: Colorado's prisons chief wants to limit solitary confinement

NPR


- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/tags/solitary-confinement#.dpuf

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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf

Listen

Audio: Rick Raemisch speaks with Ryan Warner


Inmates in solitary confinement in Colorado have one hour a day to exercise in a small enclosed space and take a shower. They spend the remaining 23 hours alone in their cells.
(Photo: Courtesy of Brittany Glidden)
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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf



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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf


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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf
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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf

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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf
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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf
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.
As head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, Tom Clements began reducing the number of inmates in solitary confinement. He started that work shortly after he began the job in 2011, and during his tenure, the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement dropped 50 percent, from a high of about 1,500 inmates.
Since Raemisch took the job last summer, he’s further reduced the numbers. Today, less than 600 inmates are in administrative segregation, the technical term for solitary confinement.
Raemisch received national attention recently for an opinion piece he wrote in the New York Times about spending a night in an administrative segregation cell. He says he did it to get a sense of what the experience was like for inmates.
Raemisch says while the 20 hours he spent in the cell were nothing compared to what inmates spend, he was surprised at the effect it had on him. For example, he says he felt paronoid and lost track of time.
“It didn’t take long before I felt like I had absolutely run out of things to do, which was nothing. There was nothing to do,” Raemisch says. “So, you find yourself gravitating towards the small window in the steel door and look out and see if you can see anything.”
Inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours alone in a cell each day. They have an hour a day to shower and exercise in a neighboring cell. Meals are given to them through a slot in the door and they have little outside contact.
Raemisch says he hopes to continue reducing the number of inmates in administrative segregation by moving mentally ill inmates into treatment and easing others into the prison’s general population. When asked how many inmates will remain in administrative segregation, Raemish says he isn’t sure.
“Well, ideally it should be zero,” Raemisch says. "Is that possible? You know, I don’t think so.”
Raemish says he fears there will always be a small number of inmates who are too dangerous to live in the general prison population. Or, he says, if they weren’t extremely dangerous before they were put in administrative segregation, the experience could make them that way.
That could have been the case for the man who murdered Clements. Evan Ebel, who was on parole at the time of the murder, spent a significant amount of time in solitary confinement. Ebel allegedly shot the former prisons chief at his home in Monument, Colo., south of Denver. He was later killed in a shootout with police in Texas.
Ebel had been out of prison for just a couple of months when he allegedly killed Clements. Before the incident, he had complained about the damaging effects of isolation and his father, a Boulder attorney, had testified before the state legislature about his concerns that solitary confinement had harmed his son's mental state.  
Given what happened to his predecessor, Raemisch has a full-time security detail to ensure his safety. He says a lot of people ask him why he decided to take the job. 
“This sounds corny but to me it feels like I’m in the right place at the right time,” Raemisch says. “Like I’m supposed to be here.”
And for this week, at least, Raemisch says he plans to stick around. 
- See more at: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/colorados-prisons-chief-wants-limit-solitary-confinement#.dpuf

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Archipelago of Pain | Opinion | The Seattle Times

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
difference.”


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
area.


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
functioning.


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
the population.


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.