The Colorado Department of Corrections is seeking to decrease the number of inmates housed in solitary confinement, beginning with prisoners suffering from "major mental illness."
In the memo, which was shared with the media by the ACLU of Colorado, CDOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch says that the department has been working to move all "offenders house in Administrative Segregation with a major mental illness out of Ad Seg," and asks that any offenders with a major mental illness not be referred to administrative segregation going forward.
Last week CDOC told lawmakers that they had already brought down the total number of inmates placed in solitary confinement to 662 in September -- down from 1,505 in September of 2011 -- and that they now only make up 3.9 percent of the overall prison population.
“We are redefining the levels of administrative segregation, and we feel that we can decrease this number substantially also," Raemisch told The Coloradoan.
In administrative segregation, prisoners are denied almost all human contact and live alone in metal cells for 23 hours a day.
In a statement, ACLU of Colorado's staff attorney Rebecca Wallace called the move "an enormous step in the right direction" but added, "there is still much important work to be done."
“As an initial matter, we remain concerned that the definition of major mental illness adopted by CDOC is too narrow and that there are still prisoners in administrative segregation who are seriously mentally ill and should not be placed in prolonged solitary confinement," Wallace said.
Back in January, under then-CDOC Chief Tom Clements, the department opened a residential treatment program in Canon City for mentally ill prisoners and closed down the state's new supermax prison, the Colorado State Penitentiary II, that had been designed exclusively for solitary confinement. But just two months later, Clements was killed by former CDOC prisoner Evan Ebel, who had walked directly out of solitary confinement and back into society.
"We were moving along, and Tom was killed. We were at a standstill," Kellie Wasko, CDOC's deputy executive director told The Denver Post. "It was time to pick it back up and move on."
In the state's last legislative session, state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Adams County) sponsored a bill to create alternatives to administrative segregation for prisoners who had been diagnosed with mental illness.
“In Colorado, by using solitary confinement as the default for mentally ill prisoners, we’re doing the least safe thing for the most amount of money," Ulibarri told The Colorado Independent. “The case of Evan Ebel and Tom Clements is the most extreme example of that."