Colorado corrections director Rick Raemisch was named one of Governing magazine’s public officials of the year. Over more than four decades in criminal justice, Raemisch, 65, has worn many hats, including deputy sheriff, prosecutor, elected sheriff and secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. In each post, he has remained committed to one overriding principle: reducing the number of people in prison. When f Wisconsin leaders declined to endorse his plan to shrink the number of state prisons to match the state’s declining inmate population, Raemisch decided to look elsewhere for a new challenge that would put his political and personal beliefs to the test.
The change turned out to be the most difficult challenge of his career. In 2013, Colorado corrections chief Tom Clements was shot dead on his doorstep by a former inmate. Like Raemisch, Clements had been committed to reducing the state’s inmate population and phasing out the use of solitary confinement. Succeeding him was not only a difficult job — it was also a potentially dangerous one. Clements’ killer had been released from prison after spending a long period in solitary confinement that appeared to have contributed to a desire for revenge. There were fears that others might be tempted into a similar offense. Raemisch has reduced the use of solitary confinement. Reviewing his career, he says, “I knew we needed to get out of this cycle of mass incarceration. Prison should truly be reserved for violent offenders only.”