"After 20 Hours in Solitary, Colorado’s Prisons Chief Wins Praise," is the news report in the Sunday New York Times by Erica Goode. Here's the beginning:
The cells where inmates are kept in solitary confinement at the state penitentiary here are 7-by-13-foot boxes arranged in semicircular tiers. When the warden, Travis Trani, heard that Rick Raemisch, Colorado’s new chief of corrections, intended to spend a night in one of them, he had two reactions.
“I thought he was crazy,” Mr. Trani recalled. “But I also admired him for wanting to have the experience.”
Mr. Raemisch has been in his job for just over seven months, having stepped in after his predecessor was shot to death a year ago Tuesday by a former inmate who had spent years in solitary. During that time, Mr. Raemisch has gained a reputation as an outspoken reformer and has made clear that he wants to make significant changes in the way the state operates its prisons.
Last month, Raemisch wrote an OpEd for the New York Times about his experience, "My Night in Solitary."
AT 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 23, I was delivered to a Colorado state penitentiary, where I was issued an inmate uniform and a mesh bag with my toiletries and bedding. My arms were handcuffed behind my back, my legs were shackled and I was deposited in Administrative Segregation — solitary confinement.
I hadn’t committed a crime. Instead, as the new head of the state’s corrections department, I wanted to learn more about what we call Ad Seg.
Most states now agree that solitary confinement is overused, and many — like New York, which just agreed to a powerful set of reforms this week — are beginning to act. When I was appointed, Gov. John Hickenlooper charged me with three goals: limiting or eliminating the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates; addressing the needs of those who have been in solitary for long periods; and reducing the number of offenders released directly from solitary back into their communities. If I was going to accomplish these, I needed a better sense of what solitary confinement was like, and what it did to the prisoners who were housed there, sometimes for years.
In Texas, the Houston Chronicle reports, "Prisons study ways to reduce solitary confinement," by James Pinkerton.
The Texas prison system has more than 7,100 inmates in solitary including 2,400 who are mentally ill, among the highest in a nation. The practice is being questioned by legislative leaders, civil right groups and even the union representing Texas prison guards, who all say the policy is too harsh, expensive and dangerous to the public since many inmates are released directly from solitary.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he warned Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials this month if the agency does not rein in the use of solitary - known as administrative segregation - a federal judge may end up overseeing reforms as the result of a civil rights suit. Whitmire said defending the policy of putting mentally ill inmates in solitary confinement, which courts in other states have found to be unconstitutional, would be difficult.
"They've reduced their numbers," said Whitmire, a Houston attorney who chairs the Senate's criminal justice committee, "but they still are not good enough."
Returning to Colorado, today's Denver Post reports, "Evan Ebel's hit list suggests ongoing threat to officials," by Kirk Mitchell.
New details are emerging in the investigation into the murder of Colorado prisons director Tom Clements that indicate parolee Evan Ebel didn't act alone and that nearly two dozen people were targeted.
Among new findings by The Denver Post:
• A federal official who had no dealings with Ebel said he was named on a hit list found in Ebel's black Cadillac DeVille two days after Clements was killed on March 19, 2013.
• Another government official said Ebel's hit list contained the names of more than 20 officials — far higher than previously known.
• That same source said one official on the hit list is concerned about the lack of information coming from the El Paso County Sheriff's Department, the lead investigative agency in the Clements case.
Those whose names appeared on the hit list remain fearful a year later because of a mystery that Ebel, a parolee who was killed in a shootout with Texas authorities on March 21, 2013, can't answer. Did Ebel act alone, on behalf of a prison gang "shot caller" or at the behest of someone else?