Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, underwent a significant transformation when it was amended due to concerns from the Colorado Department of Corrections that the bill might interfere with changes already planned. The bill, which would have prevented some mentally ill prisoners from being placed in solitary confinement, will now fund mental health programs in prisons, reduce sentences, and ensure prisoners are placed in solitary confinement based on conduct not associations.
During negotiations on the bill, originally intended to radically change when and why prisoners are placed in solitary confinement, the Department of Corrections raised concerns that the bill might affect their ability to control public safety within institutions and said its prescriptive clauses might interfere with implementing recommendations they expect to receive from a review being conducted by the National Institute of Corrections.
“Since we last met, the Department of Corrections has applied for a grant.” Carroll opened. “The purpose of that grant was to do a complete overhaul of the [inmate] classification system including solitary confinement. This is very encouraging news from the department.”
Carroll and the DOC came to an agreement that she said works to ensure the Department is afforded time to rectify what groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and others saw as human rights violations within the prison system before taking further legislative action.
Perhaps the greatest effect the bill will have on the DOC is a change from its current use of associations to dictate whether a prisoner should be placed in solitary confinement. The DOC agreed to change its policy to constrain the use of penalties for associations and instead begin using action-based criteria to determine whether an inmate should be placed in administrative segregation.
In addition, the bill as currently proposed should generate a 5-year savings of $3.2 million from sentences shortened through the bill’s allowance of earned time for prisoners undergoing solitary confinement. The department will then be allowed to use that money for both mental health treatment and programs as well as funding pilot programs designed to serve as alternatives to solitary confinement.
Finally, the bill will require a report to the Legislature on the statistics surrounding administrative segregation next year.
The Department of Corrections recently saw Tom Clements appointed as executive director. Carroll said that Clements appears to be adamant about assessing 15 year-old penal programs that have not been looked at seriously since implementation.
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 27, 2011