Colorado prisons fundamentally changing inmate treatment

KUSA – The state's main prison for mentally ill inmates has undergone a dramatic shift in prisoner control techniques, according to data provided by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

San Carlos Correctional Facility is located on the campus of the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo.

Nearly three years ago, in a story first reported by 9Wants to Know, inmate Christopher Lopez died hours after being forcibly removed from his cell and placed into a restraint chair. Corrections officers removed him from his cell after he refused to come to the door. A video made by DOC employees shows a catatonic Lopez lying down under his bed shortly before the extraction.

That same video shows Lopez suffering a seizure while in the restraint chair. The seizure went unnoticed by staff. Last year, Colorado DOC agreed to pay Lopez's family $3 million to settle a federal lawsuit that suggested Lopez died as a result of "deliberate indifference" on the part of DOC employees.

Three staff members were subsequently fired a few months after the death.

According to new figures provided by DOC to 9Wants to Know, the use of "special controls" like restraint chairs has dropped 93 percent inside San Carlos in the last year. During the same time period, the number of forced cell entries has declined by 77 percent.

DOC also reports assaults on San Carlos staff members by inmates dropped 46 percent over the last year as well.

This all comes at a time when the Colorado DOC has undergone a massive transformation in the use of "administrative segregation" or solitary confinement.

Since 2011, DOC reports the "ad seg" population has shrunk from more than 1,500 to around 160 today.

The Colorado DOC wrote in a statement: 

"The reforms of the Colorado DOC have been through the eyes of sound leadership and ambitious employees. The reforms have been implemented over the course of two years at various stages. The data is raw and without adequate time behind it to define best practice – yet. But the initial results are worth celebrating. There were no suicides in Restrictive Housing in the last year. The rate of assaults on staff, across the agency, are half of what they were in 2006."

(© 2015 KUSA)


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