In what's being praised as a significant step toward reform, the Colorado Department of Corrections is now instructing staff to no longer consign mentally ill prisoners to administrative segregation. In a memo to prison wardens issued earlier this week, a DOC official explains that the "major mentally ill" must be sent to a residential treatment program rather than being punished with ad-seg for misbehavior. That's a sharp turnaround for the DOC, which has been criticized for using solitary confinement in recent years at a rate that's twice the national average.
"I am asking that, going forward, please ensure that your staff are aware that offenders with MMI [major mental illness] Qualifiers cannot be referred to Administrative Segregation placement," states interim director of prisons Lou Archuleta in the memo.
Approximately 40 percent of the state's prisoners in ad-seg, or 23-hour-a-day isolation, are either developmentally disabled or have received a diagnosis of serious mental illness. Some, like Troy Anderson and Sam Mandez, have become the focal point of lawsuits and public attention because of their many years of being buried in supermax confinement and lack of treatment for chronic mental conditions.
DOC officials claim that they've greatly reduced the number of prisoners housed in ad-seg over the last two years, an effort that began under chief Tom Clements before his murder last spring. The memo won't immediately change anything for prisoners like Anderson and Mandez, but the ACLU of Colorado, which obtained the memo on Thursday, hailed the move as "an enormous step in the right direction." The organization has been pushing the DOC to further restrict its use of ad-seg and beef up its sputtering mental-health treatment resources.
"We remain concerned that the definition of major mental illness adopted by CDOC is too narrow," ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace responded in a prepared statement, "and that there are still prisoners in administrative segregation who are seriously mentally ill and should not be placed in prolonged solitary confinement."
Read the full memo below.
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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.
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Saturday, December 14, 2013