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Solitary Confinement Declines In Colorado

DENVER (AP) - The number of Colorado inmates in solitary confinement is declining and prison officials said Wednesday they're looking at changing policies to continue the trend.

Colorado Department of Corrections officials told lawmakers Wednesday that there were 662 inmates in solitary confinement in September, compared to 1,505 in September 2011. Those in solitary confinement, also called administrative segregation, are now 3.9 percent of the total prison population, said DOC Executive Director Rick Raemisch.

"We are redefining the levels of administrative segregation and we feel that we can decrease this number substantially also," he said.

Raemisch also lawmakers there are only eight inmates in solitary confinement with a mental illness now, compared to 140 at the same time last year.

"It's quite an accomplishment," he said.

The mental health consequences of solitary confinement have received more attention since the slaying of former Colorado DOC Director Tom Clements in March. The suspect, Evan Ebel, was a former inmate who had been released after serving eight years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. Ebel was later killed in a shootout with Texas authorities.

Clements is credited with working on policies to reduce the solitary confinement population. Some of the policy changes prison officials said they are considering regarding solitary confinement moving forward is reducing the number of daily hours an inmate is segregated to 18 or 20 hours, instead of 23 hours. Officials are also examining what are the length of the terms inmates serve in solitary confinement, and whether they're being placed there for violent or nonviolent crimes, said Kellie Wasko, the deputy executive director of DOC.

Wasko said prison officials are also looking at "what kind of cognitive interventions can we offer to offenders" to inmates on solitary confinement. She said the department plans to have a major rewrite of solitary confinement rules completed by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, but noted it's a big undertaking.

"We're turning a giant oil tanker 180 degrees," she said.

Raemisch also updated lawmakers on a plan to issue inmates state identification, instead of a prison ID, by installing something like a department of motor vehicles office in one of the DOC's institutions. He said he expects such a system to be in place next year.

He also said the DOC is meeting with a vendor to explore issuing cellphones with GPS to parolees to know their location at all times, and have parolees take pictures of themselves to verify their identities and location.

- By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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