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Reassessing Solitary Confinement II Rick Raemisch Congressional Testimony 2014

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Testimony of Rick Raemisch
Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections
“Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal,
and Public Safety Consequences”
February 25, 2014
Administrative Segregation: A Story without an End

Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Cruz, and members of the Subcommittee:
I am Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. I was
appointed to this position following the murder of the Department’s former Executive
Director on March 19th of last year. Tom Clements, as many of you know, was
murdered answering the door of his home by a recent parolee who had been released
directly into the community from Administrative Segregation.
I am honored to appear before the Subcommittee, and I look forward to talking to you
about Administrative Segregation and what we are doing in Colorado to prevent such
tragedies from ever happening again.
My career in law enforcement began in 1976 when I became Deputy Sheriff in Dane
County, Wisconsin. During the three decades that followed, I served the citizens of my
home state as Deputy; Undercover Narcotics Detective; elected Sheriff; Assistant District
Attorney; Assistant U.S. Attorney; Administrator of Probation and Parole, Wisconsin
Department of Corrections; Deputy Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections;
and Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
My experiences in law enforcement have led me to the conclusion that
Administrative Segregation has been overused, misused, and abused for over 100 years.
“The Steel Door Solution” of segregation, as I call it, either suspends the problem or
multiplies it, but definitely does not solve it. If our goal is to decrease the number of
victims inside prison, and outside prison, like Tom Clements, then we must rethink how
we use Administrative Segregation, especially when it comes to the mentally ill. This is a
goal I pursued in Wisconsin and now am pursuing in Colorado.
While head of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC), I was accountable for
more than 22,000 inmates, 73,000 individuals on probation or parole, and
approximately 1,000 juveniles. During my three and a half years leading the Department,
we made tremendous strides in reducing the number of offenders in Administrative
Segregation and removing those with mental illness so they could receive treatment.
I was in Wisconsin when I heard of Tom Clements’ murder. After the initial shock, I
became angry someone had the audacity to take the life of someone who was working
hard to improve the quality of life for inmates while also protecting the public. I applied

for the position, and was appointed Executive Director by Governor John Hickenlooper,
who wanted me to continue Mr. Clements’ vision. For me, it was an opportunity to bring
to Colorado what I had started in Wisconsin. Moreover, it was an opportunity for me to
channel my anger about Mr. Clements’ death into developing and implementing a plan
that focuses on using segregation only for those who really need it, making sure those
offenders who are released from solitary do not cause more harm, and making sure
segregation does not make people more violent.
My belief was, and still is, that it’s impossible to hold an offender with an unstable
serious mental illness accountable for violating the prison’s rules, if the offender doesn’t
understand the rules he is supposed to be playing by. So expecting a mentally ill inmate
who is housed in Administrative Segregation long-term and without treatment to follow
the rules is pointless. It’s my conviction that long-term segregation creates or
exacerbates mental illness. I try to visit institutions at least once a week to talk with staff
and inmates including some who are in Administrative Segregation. Often times, the
mental illness was apparent. Sometimes inmates were so low-functioning they could
not meaningfully function or communicate.
During my time in Wisconsin, I developed many of the philosophies and practices that
we are successfully incorporating at the Colorado DOC. Some of this work had already
begun under the direction of former Executive Director Tom Clements.
Since leading the CDOC, I’ve worked with my Executive Team to develop a workable
action plan to reduce the use of Administrative Segregation. We are reducing the
number of offenders in Administrative Segregation by assessing each case individually.
We have made reductions among those with a serious mental illness, those who are
released directly from Administrative Segregation into the community, and all other
persons in Administrative Segregation.
Along with my Executive Team, I am focusing on allowing the use of Administrative
Segregation only for those who truly are a danger to others or themselves. But just
because an offender needs to be in Administrative Segregation for safety reasons, that
doesn’t mean they should sit in a windowless, tiny cell for 23 hours a day. There are
other solutions. There are other options.
In Colorado, our goal is to get the number of offenders in Administrative Segregation as
close to zero as possible, with the exception of that small number for whom there are
no other alternatives. We have put in place an action plan that I believe will get us to
that goal by the end of this year. This action plan consists of:

focusing the use of Administrative Segregation on truly violent offenders who
pose an immediate danger to others or themselves;
not releasing an offender into the community directly from Administrative


removing levels of Restrictive Housing (housing will be driven by incentives);
developing a Sanction Matrix for violent acts, which will result in placement
in Administrative Segregation;
ending indeterminate lengths of Administrative Segregation placement;
reviewing the cases of offenders currently housed in Administrative
Segregation for longer than 12 months;
establishing a “Management Control Unit” where offenders have 4 hours a
day out of their cells in small groups;
establishing a “Transition Unit” with a cognitive course to prepare offenders
for transition to General Population; and
redefining the housing assignments with incentives for Death Row offenders.
These offenders will no longer be classified as Administrative Segregation
cases and will have opportunities to leave their cells 4 hours a day together.

While the goal is to decrease the number of offenders housed in Administrative
Segregation, there will always be a need for a prison within a prison. Some offenders
will need to be isolated to provide a secure environment for both staff and offenders,
but they should not be locked away and forgotten.
Administrative Segregation cannot be a story without an end for offenders. While I
continue to believe that offenders who are violent should remain in Administrative
Segregation until they can demonstrate good behavior, there must be a defined plan.
Offenders, if they are to meet expectations, must know what those expectations are; to
succeed, they must know what success looks like. When individuals enter the prison
system they know the length of their sentence. The same philosophy should apply to
those entering an Administrative Segregation cell.
Since putting the first stage of the Department’s action plan into effect in December, we
are seeing successes. In these few months, the number of serious mentally ill housed in
Administrative Segregation has been reduced to one offender. These offenders
removed from Administrative Segregation are receiving treatment in Residential
Treatment Programs outside of the containment of Administrative Segregation.
As a result of recent changes, the Colorado Department of Corrections has seen a
reduction in the Administrative Segregation population from 1,451 in January 2011 to
597 in January 2014. That is a reduction of nearly 60 percent. Because Colorado’s total
adult offender incarcerated population is currently 17,574, this means the Colorado
DOC Administrative Segregation population is currently just 3.4%, down from a peak of
1,505 or 6.8% in August of 2011. As a result of these reductions, we did not see an
immediate increase in assaults. We believe as we track this further, our institutions will
actually be safer.


Of course, there is no question that Administrative Segregation is more expensive. The
cost of housing an offender in Administrative Segregation is $45,311 a year, compared
to the $29,979 a year it costs to house an offender in general population. Therefore,
each offender that is housed in the general population and not Administrative
Segregation saves the state $15,332 annually per offender.
I am data driven. And if what you care about is victims and the community, you must do
what works. What I want is fewer victims. Each person we turn around who was in
Administrative Segregation means fewer victims of crime and violence. Ninety-seven
percent of all offenders will eventually go back to their communities. Releasing
offenders directly from Administrative Segregation into the community is a recipe for
disaster. Our job is to effectively prepare each of them for successful re-entry, not to
return them to the community worse than before their time in prison. In Colorado, in
2012, 140 people were released into the public from Administrative Segregation; last
year, 70; so far in 2014, two.
This is a message I deliver directly to my wardens. I say to them: “Who wants to live
directly next to someone who was just released from solitary confinement? Think about
how dangerous that is.” I also encourage my staff to spend some time in segregation so
that they understand the experience. I have done that myself, and the experience was
The current reliance on Administrative Segregation is not a Colorado problem. It’s not
even only a national problem. The use of Administrative Segregation is an international
problem and it will take many of us to solve it. I believe reform requires the
cooperation of corrections leadership, corrections staff, legislators, stakeholders and the
community. But I do see change. I see an evolution that will better serve our citizens
and make our communities safer.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee.