[JURIST] Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado [official website] signed a progressive bill for mentally ill inmates on Friday. Senate Bill 14-064 [text, PDF] changes traditional methods of solitary confinement by mandating psychiatric evaluations and therapy for inmates diagnosed with mental illness and qualifying for disciplinary intervention. All inmates currently in solitary confinement will be evaluated within 90 days, and those diagnosed with serious mental illness will be transferred to a step-down unit for medically guided treatment.
The effects of solitary confinement have been seriously scrutinized after the March 2013 slaying [Denver Post Report] of Colorado Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements. The suspect, Evan Ebel, was repeatedly disciplined with isolation during prior incarceration, which many believe led to the slaying of Mr. Clements. The legality of solitary confinement [JURIST news archive] has been an ongoing debate in the US, with many calling for comprehensive prison reform [JURIST podcast]. In February, New York reformed the use of such practices on minors. In October 2013 UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Mendez urged [JURIST report] the US to immediately end the solitary confinement imposed in 1972 on Albert Woodfox [AI backgrounder]. In June at least 400 inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in California initiated a hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest of solitary confinement. In January 2011 the Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that holding death row inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely is not an impermissible increase [JURIST report] in the severity of punishment. In 2009 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed suit against the US government, challenging the establishment of isolated cells within federal prisons that were allegedly created in violation of federal law.