Prison director seeks prisoner isolation reform

9:51 PM, Feb 21, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - Colorado's new Corrections Department director is promising to reform solitary confinement policies after spending the night in an isolated cell.

In an opinion letter to the New York Times published Thursday, Executive Director Rick Raemisch says he suffered mental anguish after spending only 20 hours in solitary confinement. The average in Colorado is 23 months, and some prisoners spend 20 years with limited contact with prison officers or other prisoners.

"I felt for years that solitary confinement was cruel," Raemisch said Friday. "I don't need to be a mental health expert to believe that it multiplies mental illness or causes mental illness if you're there for a lengthy period of time."

A parolee suspected of murdering Raemisch's predecessor, Tom Clements, was released onto parole directly from solitary confinement in March, which Raemisch says is unacceptable.

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 in 2013.

A corrections officer, on the condition anonymity, voiced concerns to 9NEWS. He points out that it's prisoners' violent actions behind bars that put them in solitary confinement. He said it's safer for other inmates when those offenders are segregated.

"We call them frequent fliers, because they're back every other week," he said. "If they don't want to be locked up in ad seg, they need to conform to the prison lifestyle."

Raemisch acknowledged that there are a handful of prisoners so dangerous that they can't be around others. He said for most though, segregation isn't a deterrence or benefit.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)

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