A year after a Colorado inmate held in solitary confinement allegedly gunned down the state prisons chief after being released, Colorado legislators are moving to restrict use of the punishment for the mentally ill, reports the Associated Press. The bill continues the efforts that the late Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements had been working on, and highlights a growing movement by states to limit the practice of solitary confinement amid questions about its effectiveness. A House commitee unanimously approved the measure yesterday. It would forbid placing inmates in solitary confinement if they have a serious mental illness, unless there are pressing circumstances. The bill already has cleared the Senate.
“I think it’s absolutely needed for public safety,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, who is co-sponsoring the proposal. Legislators have raised concerns that inmates who are released directly to communities after spending long sentences in solitary confinement pose a greater threat to society. Amy Fettig of the American Civil Liberties Union national prison project said state legislative activity trying to limit the use of solitary confinement, or study its effectiveness, has increased recently. It’s a recognition that mentally ill inmates who act out sometimes can’t control their behavior, “and that sometimes instead of punishing them, they really need treatment,” Fettig said. Before his death, Clements had been trying to limit the use of solitary confinement. Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new corrections chief, has reduced the number of mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement from 140 two years ago to one as of yesterday.