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, December 31, 2013
Thursday, December 19, 2013
at 4:46 PM
Saturday, December 14, 2013
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.
at 7:46 PM
Friday, December 13, 2013
For the last 40 years, we have largely relegated health problems like substance abuse and mental health disorders to the criminal justice system. As a result, millions of people are burdened by felony convictions due to drug use, and those who cannot afford to pay for treatment have had to be locked in cells in order to get access to necessary care.
Now, we have a chance to do something new. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents a remarkable opportunity for criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates to advance efforts to enact policy changes that promote safe and healthy communities, without excessively relying on criminal justice solutions that have become so prevalent under the War on Drugs, and which fall so disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color. Even with its challenges, the ACA sets the stage for a new health-oriented policy framework to address problems such as substance use and mental health disorders by more appropriately and effectively casting substance use and mental health disorders as matters of public health and not of criminal justice. Our task is to make the most of it.
at 8:54 AM
The Denver Post
Colorado prison wardens can no longer send prisoners with major mental illness to solitary confinement, according to a memo distributed Thursday that solidifies state policy years in the making.
The numbers of mentally ill prisoners locked in cells alone for 23 hours each day has steadily dropped this fall: from 40 in September to fewer than 30 in November and now to just eight. The state wants the number at zero by the end of the year.
The memo from interim director of prisons Lou Archuleta to prison wardens said that "going forward," staff members must not send prisoners with major mental illness to solitary confinement, also called administrative segregation.
"This is an enormous foundational step toward getting seriously mentally ill prisoners out of solitary confinement and into treatment," said Rebecca Wallace, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
The Colorado Department of Corrections opened a residential treatment program for mentally ill prisoners at Centennial Correctional Facility in Cañon City in January, shutting down a prior program that treated mentally ill prisoners while they were held in solitary confinement.
But progress stalled when, two months later, corrections executive director Tom Clements was shot to death on his doorstep. The suspect: a parolee released directly from solitary confinement to the streets who was later killed by Texas deputies.
"We were moving along, and Tom was killed. We were at a standstill," said Kellie Wasko, the department's deputy executive director. After months with an interim executive director, and then the hiring of new director Rick Raemisch, "it was time to pick it back up and move on."
Since this fall, the state has moved about 55 mentally ill prisoners into the residential treatment program. The 240-bed program had about 160 prisoners in September and now has about 215.
at 8:44 AM
Thursday, December 12, 2013
DENVER — The number of Colorado inmates in solitary confinement is declining and prison officials said Wednesday they’re looking at changing policies to continue the trend.
Colorado Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers Wednesday that there were 662 inmates in solitary confinement in September, compared to 1,505 in September 2011. Those in solitary confinement, also called administrative segregation, are now 3.9 percent of the total prison population, said DOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch.
“We are redefining the levels of administrative segregation, and we feel that we can decrease this number substantially also,” he said.
Raemisch also told lawmakers there are only eight inmates in solitary confinement with a mental illness now, compared to 140 at the same time last year.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” he said.
The mental health consequences of solitary confinement have received more attention since the slaying of former Colorado DOC Director Tom Clements in March. The suspect, Evan Ebel, was a former inmate who had been released after serving eight years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. Ebel was later killed in a shootout with Texas authorities.
Clements is credited with working on policies to reduce the solitary confinement population. Some of the policy changes prison officials said they are considering regarding solitary confinement moving forward is reducing the number of daily hours an inmate is segregated to 18 or 20 hours, instead of 23 hours. Officials are also examining what are the length of the terms inmates serve in solitary confinement, and whether they’re being placed there for violent or nonviolent crimes, said Kellie Wasko, the deputy executive director of DOC.
Wasko said prison officials are also looking at “what kind of cognitive interventions can we offer to offenders” to inmates on solitary confinement. She said the department plans to have a major rewrite of solitary confinement rules completed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, but noted it’s a big undertaking.
“We’re turning a giant oil tanker 180 degrees,” she said.
Raemisch also updated lawmakers on a plan to issue inmates state identification, instead of a prison ID, by installing something like a department of motor vehicles office in one of the DOC’s institutions. He said he expects such a system to be in place next year.
He also said the DOC is meeting with a vendor to explore issuing cellphones with GPS to parolees to know their location at all times, and have parolees take pictures of themselves to verify their identities and location.
at 10:43 AM
The Denver Post
Colorado's parole officers are reaching out to prisoners in solitary confinement as they're released from prison, and every prison will have a dedicated parole officer to work with offenders, corrections officials said Wednesday.
Executive director of corrections Rick Raemisch and his executive staff on Wednesday unveiled their reform plans for the state's troubled parole system during a hearing of the joint Judiciary Committee.
Raemisch said his team is still working on overhauling the rules for solitary confinement, also called administrative segregation, but he already is pushing changes.
"The program that we are putting in place now will put us, I think, at the forefront of the nation," Raemisch said.
Parole officers have begun picking up prisoners when they are released on parole from solitary confinement, he said. Those high-level parolees, who during their prison terms were deemed too dangerous to live with other prisoners, are then taken directly to their assigned parole officer for immediate supervision, he said.
In the past, the onus was on newly released prisoners to find their parole office. Raemisch added that he also has begun requiring some prison staffers to spend an hour in solitary confinement just so they can get an idea of what it is like.
Community bulletin alerts also will go out to law enforcement agencies when a prisoner is released straight from administrative segregation to parole, Raemisch added.
Twenty-two parole officers will staff all prisons beginning in the fiscal year that starts in July, he said. They will help offenders obtain food stamps and identification cards, and find work and housing.
"All this stuff should be done before they get out of prison," Raemisch said. "We need that strong case- management contact with parole officers before they get out."
How parolees fare during their first two weeks goes a long way toward determining whether they'll succeed or fail, he said.
The changes in policy follow the slaying of former corrections chief Tom Clements in March, allegedly by a parolee who had spent years of his prison term in administrative segregation.
The Denver Post reported in September that more than 100 prisoners were released straight from solitary confinement to parole in the past year. The Post also found that Colorado parolees have committed new crimes including murder, used drugs and disappeared for months without getting sent back to prison.
The number of prisoners in solitary has dropped to 662 in September from 1,505 two years ago, or 3.9 percent of the overall prisoner population compared with 7 percent in 2011.
Steve Hager, interim director of parole, testified that improvements have been made since the newspaper's reports.
He said a backlog in risk assessments for parolees identified by The Post has been eliminated. Hager said supervisors now are doing timely audits of parole officer casework.
Corrections officials also are reviewing intensive supervision standards and electronic monitoring rules, and are monitoring the results of a new fugitive unit that rounds up parole absconders, Hager said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed increasing funding for parole by $10 million next year, a 25 percent boost, to bring total annual spending to $49.4 million. Raemisch said he is still developing plans for how to spend that new money and is waiting for results of a study on parole officer staffing to make final recommendations.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller, a Republican from Colorado Springs, expressed skepticism about whether the proposed $10 million spending increase is needed. He said Raemisch could have told legislators during legislative hearings in September that more money was needed, but he didn't back then.
"I was left with the impression that more dollars weren't necessary to enhance public safety," Waller said during Wednesday's committee meeting.
at 10:27 AM
Friday, December 06, 2013
California Ships Prisoners Out of State to "Reduce" Its Prison Population
Danielle Rigney's son was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison when he was 19. He spent two years imprisoned in California. Each weekend, family members or friends drove four hours to visit him. "He got to see his sisters growing up; he got to keep up with their lives," she told Truthout. "We constantly talked about the future." In addition to weekly visits, Rigney's son also had a job in the prison and was on the waiting list for college classes and a technical training course.
In July, however, Rigney arrived at the prison only to be told that her son had been transferred to La Palma Correctional Facility, one of two Arizona private prisons owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Now each visit requires round-trip plane tickets and costs Rigney's family nearly $1,000. Neither his father nor his elderly grandfather, who were able to visit him regularly in California, can make the 15-hour trip. His friends, who also visited him regularly, also cannot afford to visit him.
Rigney is not the only Californian with an incarcerated loved one out of state, but she is one of the handful of family members able to afford to visit. "I've visited three times so far," she said. "There have been, at most, ten other visitors when I've been there." In comparison, she noted that the visiting rooms at the California prisons were full.
As of November 20, 2013, California housed 8,302 of its state prisoners in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. It sends more prisoners out of state than Hawaii, Idaho and Vermont combined.
at 12:36 PM