Bill Introduced In Colorado Legislature Aims To Curb Use Of Solitary Confinement In Prisons

February 22, 2011

S.B. 176 Will Lower Costs, Protect Basic Rights And Increase Public Safety, Says ACLU

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DENVER – A bill introduced last night in the Colorado state legislature will end the all-too-common practice of warehousing prisoners with serious mental illness in solitary confinement. The bill would require a mental health evaluation for prisoners before they are placed in solitary and permit long term isolation only in extreme situations. It also would support mental and behavioral health alternatives to solitary confinement through cost-saving mechanisms and ensure that prisoners are reintegrated into the general prison population before their community release.

The bill is the first to be introduced anywhere in the nation since the beginning of economic crisis that takes a serious look at the extraordinary cost to taxpayers of overusing solitary confinement.

“Using solitary confinement is enormously expensive, jeopardizes our public safety and is fundamentally inhumane,” said David Fathi, Director of the ACLU National Prison Project. “The vast majority of prisoners who are forced into solitary confinement eventually are released back into the community, making it imperative that we invest in proven alternatives that lead to greater rehabilitation and pave the way for successful re-entry.”

S.B. 176, introduced by Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) and Rep. Claire Levy (D-Boulder), is a response to the growing number of inmates in Colorado prisons who have been diagnosed as mentally ill or developmentally disabled, and the staggering cost of using solitary confinement, rather than mental or behavioral health alternatives, as the default placement without regard to medical needs, institutional security or prisoner and public safety.

In Colorado, 37 percent of those in solitary confinement are prisoners with mental illness or developmental disabilities – up from 15 percent just a decade ago. The more than 1,400 Colorado inmates in solitary confinement spend 23 hours a day in isolation, for 16 months on average, at an increased additional cost of up to $21,485 per year, per inmate.

Nationally, there are at least 20,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day, with some state correctional systems reporting 50 percent of those housed in solitary are mentally ill. Solitary confinement facilities are also the most expensive kind of prison housing unit to build and operate, costing at least two or three times more than even regular maximum security facilities.

“By undermining the innate human need for social interaction, solitary confinement works against our goals as a society,” said Jessie Ulibarri, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Colorado. “Releasing inmates directly from solitary confinement to the streets without any time to readjust to human interaction is a dangerous practice. What we want are people ready to fully integrate back into their communities, not people who are released from solitary confinement and led directly to the prison gate, only to return again.”

A copy of the bill introduced today is available online at: www.leg.state.co.us/CLICS/CLICS2011A/csl.nsf/fsbillcont3/A88F4FFC795C5C7...

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