The Denver Post
The Colorado House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill that would restrict prison officials from placing inmates in "long term" solitary confinement if they are mentally ill.
The bill, introduced following the slaying of prisons chief Tom Clements last year, already passed the Senate. Clements was killed by a parolee who spent several years in administrative segregation, also known as solitary.
The bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee.
If the bill is enacted into law, the Colorado Department of Corrections would have 90 days to evaluate all offenders in solitary confinement.
If the department determines the offender is mentally ill, the state would have to move them to a step-down unit, a prison for the mentally ill or other housing.
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill is important for offenders in solitary confinement who are mentally ill, but he added that it will come with costs. According to the current amendment those costs will be about $1.6 million a year.
"Keeping mentally ill patients out of administrative segregation is crucial," agreed Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver. "But there is so much more to be done."
Kellie Wasko, deputy executive director of CDOC, said that 1,979 Colorado inmates, or about one in 10, have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness and of those 1,400 are in the general population.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Lucia Guzman D-Denver, and Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, and Rep. Joseph A. Salazar of Thornton.
"Warehousing prisoners with mental illness in long-term solitary confinement is a cruel, costly and unlawful practice that unnecessarily jeopardizes public safety," said Denise Maes, the American Civil Liberties Union's Colorado public policy director.
In testimony Maes said rehabilitation strategies are critical, because 97 percent of prisoners will be released into communities.
She said solitary confinement cells are a bit bigger than a king-size bed and offenders stay there more than 22 hours a day where they "sleep, eat and defecate — one lives their entire daily life in that cell."
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, April 23, 2014
The Denver Post