[Ppnews] New Study: Solitary Confinement Overused in Colorado

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Nov 18 17:04:21 EST 2011

New Study: Solitary Confinement Overused in Colorado

November 18, 2011
Casella and James Ridgeway

report on solitary confinement in Colorado’s 
state prisons concluded that there are far too 
many inmates in round-the-clock lockdown. A 
series of relatively modest changes in its 
classification, review, and mental health 
treatment practices would “significantly reduce” 
the number of prisoners in administrative 
segregation, the report found. The report was 
funded by the National Institute of Corrections, 
and its authors, James Austin and Emmitt 
Sparkman, were involved in the 
reduction of solitary confinement in Mississippi’s prisons.

Alan Prendergast, who has spent more than a 
decade reporting on Colorado prisons for Denver’s 
weekly Westword, reviewed the report and 
the following summary:

A study by researchers at the National Institute 
of Corrections has found that Colorado’s approach 
to locking down its most unruly prisoners in 
23-hour-a-day isolation is “basically sound” ­ 
but could be used a lot less. Instead, even as 
the state’s prison population is declining 
slightly, the use of “administrative 
segregation,” or solitary confinement, continues to increase.

The Colorado Department of Corrections houses 
close to 1,500 prisoners in “ad-seg,” about 7 
percent of the entire state prison population. 
That’s significantly above the national average 
of 2 percent or less ­ and if you factor in the 
additional 670 prisoners who are in “punitive 
segregation” as a result of disciplinary actions, 
the CDOC figure is closer to 10 percent. And four 
out of ten of the 
in solitary have a diagnosed mental illness, 
roughly double the proportion in 1999. The 
state’s heavy reliance on ad-seg, including 
a second supermax prison to house the overload, 
has put Colorado in the center of a growing 
national controversy over whether isolating 
prisoners creates more problems in the long run.

NIC researchers James Austin and Emmitt Sparkman 
were invited by DOC to prepare an external review 
of its ad-seg policies and classification system. 
Among other points, the pair found that the 
decision to send prisoners to lockdown has little 
review by headquarters; that “there is 
considerable confusion in the operational 
memorandums and regulations on how the 
administrative segregation units are to 
function;” that the average length of stay in 
isolation is about two years; and that 40 percent 
of the ad-seg prisoners are released directly to 
the community from lockdown, with no time spent in general population first.

Austin and Sparkman urge the DOC to require a 
mental health review before a prisoner is placed 
in ad-seg and to simplify the programs and phases 
inmates are required to complete before returning 
to a less restrictive prison. Even modest 
administrative changes would “significantly 
reduce” the state’s lockdown population, they 
claim, freeing up cells for other uses and saving 
the state money, since supermax prisons are more 
costly to operate than lower-security facilities.

For more on solitary confinement in Colorado, 
read our article 
of Solitude.

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