Last week we wrote about a trial beginning in Federal District Court in Denver, in which Troy Anderson, a prisoner with mental illness, is challenging his twelve years of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary. The lawsuit, filed by student lawyers at the University of Denver Law School’s Civil Right Clinic, could have broad significance because it argues that the long-term isolation of mentally ill prisoners as it is practiced at CSP violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and its ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The always excellent Alan Prendergast, who writes for Denver’s Westword and has been following Troy Anderson and his lawsuit for years, is covering the trial, and yesterday provided a detailed report on what seems to shaping up as a promising case for the plaintiffs–and for all opponents of long-term solitary.
After nearly five days of testimony in a lawsuit brought by Troy Anderson, a prisoner who’s been in solitary confinement for twelve years, a Denver federal judge was strongly urging Colorado Department of Corrections officials to fix the harshest conditions at the state’s supermax prison — before he has to do it for them. “It shouldn’t take a federal judge to write an opinion and embarrass the department in the public eye to get this accomplished,” U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson said.
Jackson’s remarks, suggesting that there might have to be some drastic changes in the way the Colorado State Penitentiary operates, came midway through testimony in the case brought by Anderson, a state inmate serving what amounts to a life sentence for charges from two shootouts with police in the late 1990s. Anderson, who’s been diagnosed with mental illnesses ranging from ADHD to “intermittent explosive disorder,” has been confined at CSP since 2000 — deprived of direct sunlight or outdoor recreation, books (he’s allowed two a year), and, he claims, the medications that might actually help him control his behavior, reduce his sentence and get him placed back int the general prison population…
Anderson’s attorneys contend that the supermax fails to provide adequate treatment for mentally ill inmates — who, deprived of medication, exercise and socialization, deteriorate in solitary confinement. Inmates can also receive negative write-ups, or “chrons,” from guards that help keep them in segregation, even though they have no opportunity to contest the information.
The article–which needs to be read in full–reports on testimony by other CSP prisoners–delivered remotely by video–and by former CSP warden Susan Jones, who insisted that Anderson was where he belonged, .
Breaking into an unusual colloquy with Jones when she was on the stand, Jackson said he was troubled by the lack of meaningful administrative review and the absence of due process in the use of negative “chrons” to keep inmates in solitary for years. “It doesn’t seem fair to me,” he declared. And some of the other conditions described by inmates, if true, were clearly “inhumane” in his view.
The trial is expected to end next week, but it may be several weeks before the judge hands down his ruling. You can follow Alan Prendergast’s reporting here.