Sam Mandez, a 41-year-old Colorado man who has spent nearly all of his adult life in prison, including more than 17 consecutive years in solitary confinement, is likely to be released in the next few years, reports Westword. Mandez was re-sentenced on Thursday to 30 years in prison, a huge reduction from his original sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Weld County Judge Julie Hoskins noted Mandez’s “incredible capacity for change” and cited his extensive time spent in a 7×13-foot solitary confinement cell as a mitigating factor in the resentencing. In 1996, Mandez was sentenced to automatic life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a felony-murder charge stemming from his involvement in a robbery that led to a woman’s death. Mandez, who was 14, broke a window and stood as lookout, which was enough at the time for a jury to be forced into giving him such a serious sentence.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declared mandatory life imprisonment without parole sentences for crimes committed by juveniles to be unconstitutional, which served as grounds for Mandez’s resentencing request. During his first year in prison, at 19, Mandez was sent into solitary for non-violent, non-criminal violations of prison rules; he spent the next 17-plus years there. Mandez’s mental health was good when he went in, but he developed schizophrenia. His lawyers say he didn’t receive the mental health assistance that he should have been offered. The American Civil Liberties Union released a documentary in 2013 called Out of Sight; Out of Mind, the Story of Sam Mandez, which shows Mandez’s decline from a promising young man to a severely mentally ill inmate. After the release of the film, the corrections department announced that prisoners with serious mental illness would not be kept in solitary confinement long-term.