Equitas National Advisor Rick Raemisch Reduced Solitary Confinement in Colorado by 98%. He’s Just Been Named Public Official of the Year.

Governing Magazine this year recognized Equitas National Advisor and Colorado Department of Corrections Director for ending the overuse of solitary confinement in the state.

Some say it’s like being buried alive.

The walls close in on you.

And though you’re often alone for years, sometimes decades at a time, if you face a mental illness with accompanying hallucinations, you’re left alone with demons which become increasingly real.

Solitary confinement has become a routine practice and is often applied as retribution or punishment for minor offenses. 80,000 inmates are estimated to be held in solitary at any point in time in the United States, yet the numbers of people who cycle through solitary cells are much higher. In 2013, inmates in Colorado spent an average of two and a half years in solitary confinement, and some served decades in isolation.

Early in his tenure, Director Raemisch chose to spend 22 hours in solitary confinement, in a cell “the size of a parking spot,” to learn what it actually felt like. Emboldened by the experience and by extensive research showing negative outcomes for inmates, Raemisch concluded that “long-term isolation…has not solved any problems; at best it has maintained them.”

The following year, Raemisch met with the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, where he helped draft revised language for the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners, called the “Mandela Rules.” The adopted language characterizes solitary confinement for longer than 15 consecutive days as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Finally, in September of 2017, Raemisch ended the use of long-term solitary confinement in Colorado, mandating its use to no more than 15 consecutive days. In order to facilitate the transition, the Department of Corrections implemented step-down programs including access to therapy and anger management classes for those who had been held in solitary for a prolonged period, and for those who would still be held for the shorter terms that remain permissible.

Director Raemisch has traveled around the country and the globe to share his findings and advocate for an end to extended solitary confinement. Catching the attention of stakeholders across the country, Raemisch has just been named a Public Official of the Year by Governing Magazine, an honor granted to executives who set “ambitious, audacious, society-changing goals.” Director Raemisch has been a leading advocate for reforms in policy and practice at the intersection of mental health and criminal justice. We are proud to number Director Raemisch among the Equitas Project National Advisors. Learn more about the Equitas Advisors, and their efforts to improve mental health and reduce incarceration in the U.S. on Equitas’ website.

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