More than half the inmates held in solitary confinement in Colorado prisons have a severe mental illness.
Even though long periods of isolation usually worsens mental illness, the state continues this method of punishment.
According to a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), during 2012 the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) locked up between 537 and 686 mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement for an average of 16 months.
Solitary confinement in a Colorado prison is a small windowless cell for 23 hours and one hour outside or in an exercise room.
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“Warehousing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement is not only costly, cruel, and unlawful, its puts the public at serious risk,” ACLU attorney Rebecca Wallace wrote in a press release.
“When mental illness goes untreated, or is made worse by solitary confinement, it can lead to criminal or antisocial actions once a prisoner is released, leaving the public to suffer the consequences.”
It's a classic Catch 22, prisoners with mental health problems are more likely to placed in solitary confinement because they are less likely or unable to follow prison rules.
According to the ACLU, prisoners “appear to have no road out of severely restrictive confinement.”
Of course, most prisoners will eventually end up on the streets of Colorado, possibly being a greater threat than they were before this severe imprisonment, but that logic often gets drowned out by "get tough on crime" slogans.