Feb 21, 2014 8:41 PM by Maddie Garrett

Prison Chief spends time in solitary confinement to speed reforms

A call for reform is coming from the top of Colorado's prison system, and it's being spurred forward after Department of Corrections Executive Director Rick Raemisch spent 20 hours in solitary confinement.

Raemisch spent the night in administrative segregation, or ad-seg, for a night to find out first hand what it was like for inmates. Though his stint in solitary confinement was much shorter than the average stay of 23 hours, he said it gave him a better idea of what it's like, and what needs to change.

"I had no idea, really, what time it was during the experiment," said Raemisch.

Raemisch was handcuffed and counted just like any other inmate. He said the experiment was worth it and important for reforms.

"I just felt if I was going to talk about it I was going to experience some of it," he explained.

Raemisch said he has long thought that segregation was cruel, and often created or increased mental illness. After his stint in solitary confinement, Raemish came out with a new vigor to reduce the number of inmates put into administrative segregation.

"A big part of this is getting them the correct treatment," said Raemisch of his plans.

Raemisch kept a journal, and in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, he said today's prisons are a dumping ground for the mentally unstable, and administrative segregation doesn't help.

"I don't need to be a mental health expert to believe that it multiplies mental illness or causes mental illness if you're there for a lengthy period of time," he added.

He explained that there are a handful of inmates who are simply too violent to be part of a prison's general population, but those are few compared to the overall number of people in prison.

"I believe there are some diseases for which there are no cure," said Raemisch.

But with 97% of all inmates being released back into society, he said something needs to change to ensure they are more successful and don't relapse back into the prison system.

"I can't take someone that's violent like that, give up on them, put them in an ad-seg cell and "say oh by the way you're being released tomorrow." What a recipe for disaster," he said.

Raemisch said DOC has a plan to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement by creating programs to ease inmates from administrative segregation into general population and to give them a set time to be in ad-seg.

"Rehabilitate them, give them some skills so that they become law abiding decent citizens, we're going to have less victims out there, and that's what this really is all about having less victims," said Raemisch.

That plan is expected to roll out this June.

Reforms started under Raemisch's predecessor, the late Tom Clements. Clements was shot and killed by a former inmate who had spent time in administrative segregation, the very system Clements was hoping to change.

Colorado has recently reduced the number of inmates in ad-seg from just over 1,500 to 593. Raemisch hopes to get that number down even more in the coming years.



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