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, November 28, 2007

Lawsuit Attacks 24 Years in Solitary

Law students at the University of Denver sued the federal Bureau of Prisons today on behalf of a man kept in solitary confinement for 24 years. The lawsuit, filed in Denver federal court, said the incarceration of Thomas Silverstein amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Silverstein, 55, is being held in total isolation at the Supermax prison in Florence. He has been in prison since 1975 and in solitary confinement since the 1983 murder of a prison guard at the federal prison in Marion, Il. He previously was convicted of killing two inmates at prisons in Marion and Leavenworth, Kan., in 1981 and 1982. His conviction for killing a third inmate was overturned and never retried.

Silverstein was put on permanent "no human contact" status after the 1983 murder of the prison guard. His isolation for 24 years has led to deterioration of his mental health, the lawsuit said. The conditions of his confinement caused him to "suffer deprivations that cause mental harm that goes beyond the boundaries of what most human beings can psychologically tolerate," the lawsuit charged.

Kept in soundproof cells, he has been subjected to extreme heat and constant bright lights in his cells, the lawsuit said. His only visitors were strangers who volunteer to visit prisoners or persons he knew before he was incarcerated.

Silverstein developed an interest in Buddhism and other religions which he has not been able to pursue, the lawsuit charges. It took years for him to be able to listen to the radio, play tapes for his studies or have access to art supplies, the lawsuit said. Silverstein has demonstrated for 15 years that he no longer poses a threat to staff or inmates, the lawsuit said. He has not violated a prison policy or received a misconduct citation for more than 20 years, the lawsuit said.

He exhibited nonviolent behavior even when inmates released him during a prison riot in Atlanta in 1987, the lawsuit said.

He was moved to Supermax in 2005 believing he would be able to demonstrate his ability to function in the general population. Although he complied with prison requirements, officials have refused to consider reducing the level of his confinement, the suit said.

At Supermax, he is confined in a sound-proof room with 24-hour camera surveillance. His art supplies have been taken away.

He is being held in total isolation while other inmates who have murdered guards or inmates while in prison are not, the lawsuit said.

As a result of his isolation, Silverstein has suffered depression, hallucinations, memory loss and other mental and physical harm, and is in danger of succumbing to mental illness, the lawsuit said. The suit seeks a court order to remove him from solitary confinement and place him into the general population, to give him access to religious materials and to relax restrictions on his communication with visitors and attorneys.

DU law students Steven Baum and Amber Trzinski filed the case under the supervision of visiting professor Dan Manville, a prisoner's rights expert, and associate professor Laura Rovner, as part of the school's Civil Rights Clinic.

Earlier this year, Rovner led a team of student lawyers in a case that overturned a Bureau of Prison rule barring inmates form publishing articles and stories under their own name. The Civil Rights Clinic is a year-long class in which students do all the work, preparing the lawsuit, following up on motions and arguing in court under a federal provision for student lawyers.

Rocky Mountain News


Anonymous said...

The comments in the Rocky Mountain News show how far we have to educate the public. Inmates do not have constitutional rights. They and their sponsors can be searched without warrant, they can be detained without cause, they can be retried by the prison authorities multiple times for the same charges, and they are not allowed legal counsel, in many cases, for prison and parole trials that will keep them in prison for many years.
Colorado operates at least one supermax and they want to build another one.

AWARE said...

anonymous. Agreed! What does this article tell the world about the state of Colorado? The state of Insanity! Through experience, my trust has been shattered. Corruption, greed and lack of conscience on the part of the corporate CDOC is above and beyond evident. E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e who sees the deceit and barbarism that prison officials profit from should be involved and support this and all inhumane treatment. This behavior on the part of CSP reveals a very, very dark nature on the part of these sadistic politicians and supporters of prisons vs. rehabilitation. It is THEY who need to be locked up. This system of injustice would be beneficial for society if these crooks who prey on fear (and for the most part, mistakes by their fellow brothers and sisters) reversed positions. This lawsuit MUST prevail in the name of ALL THAT IS RIGHT!

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