The Denver Post
For 12 years, virtually the only exposure Troy Anderson has had to the outdoors has come in a 90-square-foot room.
At one end of the room are two slits in the wall that are 6-inches wide and 5-feet tall. The slits are covered with metal grates. On one wall of the room is a chin-up bar.
This, Colorado Department of Corrections officials argued in a lawsuit Anderson filed, satisfied the constitutional requirement that Anderson, a prisoner at the Colorado State Penitentiary, be given outdoor exercise opportunities.
In a ruling issued last week, a federal judge in Denver disagreed and ordered prison officials to allow Anderson to exercise in a place with no roof where the rain can fall on him and the wind can blow at him.
"The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons," U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson wrote in his ruling, "but it does forbid inhumane conditions."
Anderson's treatment, Jackson wrote, was "a paradigm of inhumane treatment."
The ruling could have widespread impact.
The Colorado State Penitentiary, or CSP for short, is the most restrictive prison in the state system and is used to house the state's most dangerous inmates. Prisoners are kept in their cells for at least 23 hours a day. Meals come through a slot in the cell door. The only window in the cell is difficult to look through.
There are 756 inmates at the prison, according to the Department of Corrections. Anderson, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for crimes that include a shootout with police, is one of nine inmates who have been housed in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, according to Jackson's ruling.
Anderson's attorneys — law students from the University of Denver and their faculty advisors — say the ruling could mean that all inmates at CSP must be given genuine outdoor exercise time.
"We're hopeful the ruling will be the catalyst ... to change that inhumane practice," DU law professor Brittany Glidden, one of the faculty advisers, said.
But, in an e-mail, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the department sees the ruling as applying only to Anderson. Jackson gave the department 60 days to come up with a plan for giving Anderson outdoor exercise for one hour at a time, three days a week.
One of the options, Glidden said, is that the department might just move him into a less-resrtictive prison.
"We just received the ruling and are now analyzing how we are going to implement the judge's orders," DOC spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti wrote in an e-mail.
Jackson noted in his ruling that one prison expert who testified at trial in the case said CSP is the only prison in the nation that does not provide true outdoor exercise for inmates. Instead, across the country, prisons are rethinking the use of prolonged solitary confinement.
"CDOC officials," Jackson wrote, "know that CSP is out of step with the rest of the nation."
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.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
The Denver Post