July 31, 2013
An 18-month study by the ACLU of Colorado found that nearly 90 Colorado prisoners with serious mental illnesses were locked in solitary confinement this year. Many of these prisoners had been in solitary confinement for at least four years despite legal and expert recommendations that prisons stop “warehousing” the those with mental illnesses in 23-hour-a-day isolation. The ACLU study also found that the proportion of prisoners with mental illnesses held in solitary confinement increased from 2011 to 2012 even though the state prison system decreased the overall number of inmates in solitary. With a growing trend of isolating the those with mental illnesses within the prison system, the ACLU believes it is apparent that there is a need for further reform. The ACLU argues that prisons are usually ill-equipped to respond appropriately to the needs of prisoners with mental illnesses. Prison mental health services are all too frequently plagued by understaffing, insufficient facilities, and limited programs. Many seriously ill prisoners receive little or no meaningful treatment despite the argument that treatment is a key way to reduce recidivism. The ACLU finds it especially troubling that there are cases of inmates with serious mental illnesses attempting suicide, attacking others, eating feces and banging their heads against walls. Additionally, researchers have found that in some cases, the mental health of prisoners deteriorates further with solitary confinement. For more information on the findings of this study, please click here.