Wisconsin Gets a Look at Colorado’s Move Away from Solitary Confinement

From the perspective of Wisconsin, the Colorado Department of Corrections’ aggressive move away from solitary confinement generally and for mentally ill inmates specifically is looking pretty good.

Wisconsin has similar goals but hasn’t moved as quickly in attaining them, according to a report by Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism that appeared in The Cap Times of Madison.

Hall came to Colorado and was taken on a tour of three state prisons, including the $200 million all-solitary prison in Cañon City, opened in 2010, which became vacant as the state went from 1,500 prisoners in solitary in 2011 to 185 in May.

But the main reason for the state-to-state comparison is Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, who was the boss of the Wisconsin system from 2007 to 2011.

Executive Director Rick Raemisch of the Colorado Department of Corrections outside the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City.

Jerilee Bennett/For the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Executive Director Rick Raemisch of the Colorado Department of Corrections outside the Colorado State Penitentiary in Cañon City.

“Colorado’s decision to curtail the use of solitary confinement — which the state of Wisconsin has begun to do — offers lessons for the Badger State that Raemisch is uniquely positioned to offer,” Hall reported.

Colorado’s move away from solitary was begun by Raemisch’s predecessor, Tom Clements, who was gunned down on his front doorstep in 2013 by an inmate released directly to the streets after seven years in solitary confinement. Gov. John Hickenlooper has also been a proponent of reducing solitary.

This $200 million prison in Cañon City was opened in 2010 to exclusively house inmates in solitary confinement. It’s now empty as the Colorado Department of Corrections decided to severely curtail isolation.

Jen Friedberg/For The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

This $200 million prison in Cañon City was opened in 2010 to exclusively house inmates in solitary confinement. It’s now empty as the Colorado Department of Corrections decided to severely curtail isolation.

Raemisch famously spent (he wrote a column about it for the New York Times) 20 hours locked in a solitary cell to edify himself. He said it fortified his opinion that solitary makes inmates more prone to violence and exacerbates mental illness.

Colorado’s overuse of solitary confinement was “sending people out worse than when they came in,” he said to Hall. “I’ll tell you right now, segregation doesn’t work — at all.”

 

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