Solitarywatch: Judge Rules Against Colorado Supermax That Keeps Prisoners Indoors for Years

From SolitaryWatch, Aug. 30th 2012

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

We’ve written at length about the case of Troy Anderson, a prisoner with mental illness who has spent more than ten years in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. This past April, a Federal District Court in Denver heard a case brought on Anderson behalf by students at the University of Denver Law School’s Civil Rights Clinic. As we wrote, “it was his untreated mental illness that first landed him at CSP, Anderson contends, and now the same symptoms are keeping him there indefinitely. Without proper treatment, he is unable to convince corrections officials that he’s fit for the general prison population.
This catch-22, his lawyers say, condemns him to an effective life sentence under conditions that are increasingly being denounced as a form of torture—particularly when applied to mentally ill prisoners.” The suit claimed that Anderson’s treatment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and its guarantee of due process. Among other things, his lawyers pointed out that it has been more than a decade since Anderson had “felt the sun on his back.”

Westword‘s Alan Prendergast, who has also followed the case closely, reported earlier this week on the judge’s ruling in the case:

In what amounts to a landmark decision, a federal judge has ruled that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute “a paradigm of inhumane treatment” and must change — notably, so that inmates locked down in their cells 23 hours a day can have at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. “The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons, but it does forbid inhumane conditions,” U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson wrote in an order issued last Friday.

CSP has an interior courtyard that could be modified to permit outdoor exercise for inmates, Jackson notes. But since it opened in 1993, the state supermax has permitted its high-security inmates only to exercise in an odd-shaped room on each tier equipped with a chin-up bar; small holes allow some fresh air from outside to reach the room. Calling CSP “out of step with the rest of the nation” — even the notorious federal supermax in Florence allows its inmates outdoor recreation in individual cages — Jackson declared that prison officials must provide its charges with “meaningful exposure” to natural light and air.

Jackson’s ruling came in the case of Troy Anderson, 42, a mentally ill inmate serving an 83-year sentence stemming from two shootouts with police. He’s one of ten inmates who have been at CSP for ten years or more with hardly any exposure to the outdoors (except during transport to court) during that time. His lawsuit, filed with the aid of student lawyers from the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, challenged several aspects of life at CSP, from mental health treatment to the policies that have kept him from progressing to a less restrictive prison, as unconstitutional…

On other issues, the judge ordered a fresh look at Anderson’s medication issues and mental health treatment. He adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward new policies that are supposed to address other inmate concerns about how inmates receive bad behavior reports, known as “negative chrons,” that can prolong their stay in solitary confinement without a clear appeal process.

At Anderson’s trial, other inmates testified about suicidal thoughts brought on by the severe isolation and being deprived of any exposure to the outdoors. “I go to bed crying sometimes because I feel I have no hope of being outside of that cell any more,” one said.

A copy of the judge’s order can be found here: Troy Anderson v. Colorado DOC

URL of the original: http://solitarywatch.com/2012/08/30/judge-rules-against-colorado-supermax-that-keeps-prisoners-indoors-for-years/

New Study: Solitary Confinement Overused in Colorado

From: SolitaryWatch:
November 18, 2011
by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

A new 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 dramatic 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 provided 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 prisoners in solitary have a diagnosed mental illness, roughly double the proportion in 1999. The state’s heavy reliance on ad-seg, including building 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 Fortresses of Solitude.

Solitary Confinement: Mentally Ill in CSP

From National Geographic, about Colorado’s supermax and mentally ill prisoners:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/channel/videos/satellite/satelliteEmbedPlayer.swf

Solitary-confinement report conclusions outrage prison activists

From: Westword.com:
By Alan Prendergast, Tuesday, Jun. 8 2010

The release of a twelve-month study about the mental effects of solitary confinement at Colorado’s supermax is still weeks away.

But preliminary results leaked from the report — which suggest state prisoners suffer little, if any, psychological impact from even long-term stay in isolation cells — is already stirring outrage among prison activists and civil liberties attorneys.

A National Geographic special on solitary confinement that aired in April focused on life at the Colorado State Penitentiary, where inmates are housed in 23-hour-a-day lockdown. The program mentioned that the study’s preliminary findings indicated little effect on inmates’ mental health from their confinement.

That tidbit, which flies in the face of much of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature on the effects of solitary, has activists steeling themselves for the worst when the report is officially unveiled next month. The study and this fall’s expected opening of a second supermax, known as CSP 2, were hot topics at Tuesday’s American Civil Liberties Union talk by University of Denver law professor Laura Rovner.

Rovner, who’s involved in lawsuits challenging conditions of solitary confinement faced by 27-year federal lockdown champion Thomas Silverstein and mentally ill CSP inmate Troy Anderson, noted that the evidence of psychological deterioration in solitary is compelling — but that hasn’t deterred state and federal prison authorities from building more supermaxes.

“There are more people in supermaxes, so it doesn’t seem as shocking as it once did,” she said.

Several audience members, including a smattering of attorneys, commented on the upcoming report, which some suspect is designed to help pave the way for the opening of CSP 2 by minimizing the degree to which solitary may encourage paranoia, rage and suicide. A few questioned the methodology of the state’s research, which (at least as glimpsed in scenes from the NG special, which can be found here) seemed to rely on self-reporting from inmates desperate to get out of CSP. “Of course they’re going to say they’re okay,” one noted.

Rovner agreed. She recalled one supermax inmate she had interviewed who kept insisting he was doing just fine, despite a nasty wound. “It turned out he’d been trying to dig the FBI chip out of his head,” she said.

A summary of the report is expected to be presented to a state task force on prison mental health issues in mid-July.