Colorado Department of Corrections
The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) found that they had a high number of people in their administrative segregation unit. Those housed within this unit were there for indeterminate periods of time—sometimes for long periods, possibly years. Additionally, people were often released from this highly restrictive environment directly back to the community. Due to this finding, the CDOC revised their administrative segregation policy, implementing a number of alternative units that provide more out-of-cell time, access to programming and congregate activity, and a pathway out of the unit and back into the general housing population.
The goal of this policy change was to eliminate long-term administrative segregation; to provide alternatives to segregation, so that people who need a more secure environment can be housed in a location that is less isolating and has more opportunities for rehabilitation; and to eliminate people being directly released from restrictive housing into the community.
In 2009, the CDOC was sued by Nathan Dunlap, an individual being housed in administrative segregation. Dunlap said he had been denied exercise and fresh air for decades, since his death row status made him ineligible to leave administrative segregation, and thus not allowed these privileges.
In October of 2011, the CDOC made a formal request to the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) to have an external review of its classification and administrative segregation policies and practices. The NIC found that about 7 percent of the entire prison population was in administrative segregation, which is significantly higher than the national average of 1 to 2 percent. Based on their findings, the NIC issued a series of recommendations, including requiring a minimum of a 30-minute out-of-cell contact each month between the incarcerated person and their caseworker, and creating a step-down program with specific rules and privileges associated with each phase.
CDOC Director Rick Raemisch asked corrections staff to work together on a complete overhaul of CDOC’s administrative segregation. Staff were integrally involved in all aspects of the policy change, including the development of new procedures, based on the NIC recommendations.
Additionally, in 2011, the Colorado legislature took an important step to address the problem of releasing incarcerated people directly to the community from segregation without sufficient transition resources. Through the passage of Senate Bill 11-176, the legislature overhauled administrative segregation by setting forth guidelines such as reclassification efforts and the awarding of earned time .
In 2017 CDOC replaced administrative segregation with Close Custody Management Control Unit/ Comprehensive (MCC) Close Custody Management Control Units (MCU) and Close Custody Transition Units (CCTU). People in these units are given the opportunity to re-socialize with small groups of other incarcerated people, while still being managed within highly structured and controlled environments.
MCC provides the highest level of supervision and control—and an individual may only be assigned to this designation for up to 12 months. All individuals in this unit are offered a minimum of four hours out of cell per day to attend class or passive group/individual recreational opportunities. They remain restrained during these times.
MCU is primarily used as a progressive management assignment for people who are progressing from MCC. Individuals are offered four hours out of cell per day, and up to eight individuals may be out together for recreational/program opportunities. They may participate in academic and cognitive programming opportunities.
CCTU is a temporary designation that is primarily used for people progressing from MCU. Individuals are offered up to six hours out of cell per day, and up to 16 people may be out together to attend class or passive recreational activities. Those housed in CCTU are assigned to complete a cognitive program based on their individual needs.
There is no longer administrative segregation in Colorado, nor is there extended restrictive housing using the ACA definition , whereby an individual is separated from the general population while restricted to their cell for at least 22 hours per day and for more than 30 days for the safe and secure operation of the facility. In July 2013, approximately 700 individuals remained housed in CDOC’s administrative segregation units, some of whom had been there for more than 24 years, and 49 percent of whom were released directly from administrative segregation back into the community. Now, no one is in administrative segregation and 852 people are currently in the alternative units. In 2017, no one was released from administrative segregation to the community.
As a result of this and other reforms, CDOC has seen many positive results in the safety of their facilities. From 2008 through 2015, the average number of individual-on-individual assaults dropped 17 percent, and assaults on staff decreased significantly. Between 2008 and 2013, there were an average of 262 assaults on staff per year, and those numbers dropped to 188 in 2014 and 160 in 2015. In 2015, there were an average of 158 individuals serving up to one year in Restrictive Housing-Maximum Security in Colorado, spending up to 22 hours a day in their cells. Now, no one is in an environment where they are in their cell for 22 hours per day for longer than 15 days.
CDOC encountered some obstacles during the creation and implementation of the administrative segregation reform efforts. To overcome these obstacles, feedback, concerns, and suggestions from staff were considered by executive staff as the reforms were being implemented. This included involving staff in the process of policy and operations development. The facility management teams were given autonomy to take the executive director’s stated goals and operationalize them – therefore strengthening the ownership of the processes. It is this staff and culture of progressive thinking that made all of the reforms occurring in Colorado possible.