Colorado could "significantly reduce" the unusually high percentage of its prison inmates held in long-term solitary confinement by instituting several low-cost reforms, corrections experts said in a state-ordered report released last week.
Nearly 7 percent of Colorado state prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement, compared to a national average of 1-2 percent. Roughly a quarter of these inmates suffer from serious mental illness, and 40 percent of them are released directly from solitary confinement into the community.
The report raises the possibility that Colorado prison officials are prepared to institute serious reforms and bring the state closer in line with solitary confinement policies in other states, said Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado.
"The very existence of this report may signal that the Colorado Department of Corrections is ready for a significant change," said Silverstein. "It's change that's long overdue."
A disturbing number of Colorado prisoners are "warehoused for years and years" in solitary, he said. "Some have been there since the 1990s."
In a statement, the Colorado Department of Corrections said it was "reviewing the final report and will be moving forward with recommended strategies to improve our system."
Colorado prison authorities have faced criticism over their heavy use of solitary confinement for years, but the push for reform received a major boost in 2009 with the introduction of legislation in the Colorado Senate to dramatically restructure the state's solitary confinement policies. Sen. Morgan Carrol of Aurora, a Democrat, described the bill as a "human rights issue."
A hearing on the legislation earlier this year featured testimony by Anne Lawlor, a Colorado woman sentenced to five years for check fraud, who was held in solitary confinement for a year after she said prison authorities accused her of speaking in code with her husband during a visitation.
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, November 30, 2011