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.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Commentary: What's wrong with solitary confinement? - The Denver Post

Guest Commentary: What's wrong with solitary confinement? - The Denver Post

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine that you've been alone for years and years, lying on a cold, concrete slab, in a stark windowless room, with virtually no human to communicate with - except yourself.

Imagine being locked behind a solid steel door, in a space, tighter than most bathrooms, for 23 of every 24 hours. In hour 24, you go into a "vented dog run;" that's your only exercise. Imagine how the most resilient individual might react to this existence; to permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures and forced insomnia. Imagine, too, the most vulnerable: inmates with serious mental illness.

There's often little sympathy for the incarcerated and even less for those who find themselves in long-term solitary confinement. We often think they must have done something heinous to not only be in prison, but in the bleakest part of a prison: solitary confinement, isolation, permanent lockdown, the hole.

As the former Chief of Psychiatry for the Colorado Department of Corrections, with responsibility for directing the psychiatric care of inmates around the state, I can tell you that solitary confinement doesn't play out like we imagine it from popular media. It doesn't always house only "the worst of the worst." In my experience, the smallest infraction can end with a solitary placement. It's not a 30-day experience like that often shown on television; inmates typically serve two, three, or more years in solitary. There are no victories; no Shawshank Redemption. Solitary confinement is not redemptive. For many, it's cruel and unusual punishment. And warehousing prisoners who are mentally ill in solitary confinement, well, that's just a losing proposition.

It's ineffective, it's inhumane, and its costs are higher than most Coloradans know.

In this legislative session, a bill was passed that made some limited changes to the landscape of solitary confinement. Senate Bill 176 establishes a new earned time provision and changes the definition of a security threat group. But what we need is change that affects those prisoners with serious mental illness; changes that begin right at the cell front door that separates a prisoner who is mentally ill from both sanity and humanity.

The time for these changes is now.

As a medical professional with intimate knowledge of the state's network of prisons and prisoners, I know that solitary confinement of prisoners who are mentally ill is a problem that should command the state's immediate attention - and action.

Nearly 1,500 of Colorado's 23,000 inmates are currently housed in what is officially called "administrative segregation." About 37 percent of those inmates have been diagnosed as mentally ill or developmentally disabled (a far higher percentage than found in the general population). For them, "ad seg" is hell. Their mental health conditions deteriorate. They act out in ways that speak to the sensory deprivation of being denied human contact. They imagine suicide -- and homicide. They get no better; they get worse.

There is not enough prison staff to meet the needs of all the inmates with mental illness in solitary. Perhaps that is because there are just too many inmates with mental illness.

Read more: Guest Commentary: What's wrong with solitary confinement? - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/headlines/ci_18098132#ixzz1Mu0GKDfG
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prison is the punishment, isolation is torture.
Tommy Silverstein more than 10,000 days in isolation the gov't is out of control on any given day 2000,000 people in isolation. ADSEG,SHU,SMU whatever "they" want to call it, each are simply torture chambers. just because this is hidden from sight doesnt mean it doesn't exist this is the 21st century why is our country American still allowed to torture people? We have the constitution. and the emancipation proclimationwhy can our gov't own and make money from the torture of human beings?
thanx for the article. Kudos to the denver Post for speaking the truth, while their state tortures so many. whole towns exist because of the prison industry