The numbers speak for themselves.
The average stay for a state prisoner forced into solitary confinement is a year and a half. The percentage of Colorado prison inmates forced into solitary confinement has more than doubled over the past decade. Almost 40 percent of those forced into solitary confinement have some form of mental disability or mental illness. Almost half of those inmates reeling from extended periods of solitary confinement were released to the public without any kind of re-integration program. All of that is according to state prison officials themselves.
And the Colorado Department of Corrections is working hard to not only defend its programs, but officials say any change might put other prisoners at risk.
There is no good defense of violating human rights, and that’s exactly what a 18-month average stay in solitary confinement really is.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, and state Sen. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, say Senate Bill 176 would prevent further prison abuses and make it safer for deeply troubled inmates to return to public life after spending time in isolation.
Maybe. The bill spells out a large number of encumbrances on prison officials when meting out solitary confinement to inmates. One restriction would be to limit confinement to 30 days. Another would be to limit the number of prisoners eligible for solitary confinement.
Clearly the horrific number of prisoners inhumanely separated from all others is astounding. And what’s worse is that those with severe mental illness, which leads far too many Colorado residents to prison instead of psychiatric hospitals where they belong, are being made worse by their seclusion. Parts of Carroll’s bill ensures a medical doctor advise prison officials on using this dangerous punishment.
While we stand firmly behind this measure and insist the corrections department immediately review prison solitary confinement procedures, it’s doubtful that arbitrarily limiting the time in confinement and the number of prisoners eligible for seclusion is either practical or beneficial.
This issue illustrates how unnerving and unproductive it is to house mentally ill people in prisons, and it should cue state lawmakers to look even closer at treating psychologically ill people somewhere besides expensive state prisons.
And while there certainly should be limitations on the use of seclusion, Carroll and Levy will have to show how these restrictions will protect both the public and those inmates at risk of being abused by violent or unmanageable inmate.