The Post Editorials Mov­ing be­yond prison soli­tary

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

It­wasn’t so long ago that Colorado kept pris­on­ers in soli­tary con­fine­ment— what the sys­tem­calls ad­min­is­tra­tive seg­re­ga­tion— at amuch higher rate than most states.

By 2011, in fact, more than 1,500 pris­on­ers in Colorado, or 7 per­cent of the to­tal in­mate pop­u­la­tion, were lan­guish­ing in soli­tary.

By con­trast, to­day that fig­ure has shrunk to about 160, or less than 1 per­cent of the prison pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to an en­cour­ag­ing re­port re­leased the other day by the Colorado Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tions.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Rick Raemisch and deputy di­rec­tor Kel­lieWasco, who co-au­thored “Open the Door— Seg­re­ga­tion Re­form in Colorado,” ad­mit there hasn’t been enough time for a full as­sess­ment of the new op­tions to soli­tary, but say “the ini­tial re­sults are worth cel­e­brat­ing.” In­deed they are. Soli­tary wasn’t in­vented out of sadis­tic de­sire to in­flict emo­tional dam­age on pris­on­ers. It was cre­ated be­cause some are dan­ger­ously vi­o­lent to­ward other in­mates and prison staff and need to be kept un­der tight con­trol— which in Colorado meant 23 hours of cell time each day. Over the years, how­ever, the use of soli­tary ex­panded as it came to be used to solve other prob­lems, too, such as what to do with the se­ri­ously men­tal ill.

Nor was there any as­sur­ance a prisoner would ever emerge from soli­tary. As the re­port notes, as re­cently as 2013, “There were still of­fend­ers who had been housed within ad­min­is­tra­tive seg­re­ga­tion for over 24 years.” Twenty four years! Raemisch andWasco seem to ac­knowl­edge that crit­ics might quib­ble with how the depart­ment de­fines the sta­tus of some pris­on­ers, such as those in res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­grams who would rather stay in their cells. But the ap­par­ently sin­cere de­sire on their part to end the iso­la­tion of as many pris­on­ers as pos­si­ble is clear in the re­port.

“We of­fer our of­fend­ers in Res­i­den­tial Treat­ment Pro­grams out-of-cell op­por­tu­ni­ties for both ther­a­peu­tic and non­ther­a­peu­tic time,” they­write. “We don’t force them to come out if they don’twant to. This has brought us ridicule and cri­tique butwe feel thatwe are reach­ing th­ese of­fend­ers through time and pa­tience and con­sis­tent dose and fre­quency of treat­ment avail­abil­ity.”

Leg­is­la­tion last year out­lawed place­ment of the se­ri­ously mentally ill in long-term soli­tary, al­though the depart­ment had al­ready com­mit­ted to such a pol­icy on its own.

Since we’d been crit­i­cal of the depart­ment’s reliance on soli­tary, it’s only right to ac­knowl­edge sig­nif­i­cant progress. And it’s also worth not­ing the progress ex­tends to pub­lic safety. No prisoner to­day is re­leased di­rectly from the most highly re­stric­tive sta­tus di­rectly into the com­mu­nity, as was done in the past. The release in 2013 of Evan Ebel was the most no­to­ri­ous mis­take in that re­gard, as he went on to com­mit two heinous mur­ders, in­clud­ing the shoot­ing of Raemisch’s re­form-minded pre­de­ces­sor, Tom Cle­ments.

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