Transcript: Testimony of Colorado Corrections Director Rick Raemisch on solitary confinement – Feb. 25, 2014

Partial transcript of the testimony of Rick Raemisch, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, on solitary confinement. The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights hearing on “Reassessing Solitary Confinement II: The Human Rights, Fiscal, and Public Safety Consequences” was held on Feb. 25, 2014:

Thank you, Mr. Chair, Ranking Member Cruz, and distinguished members of this committee. It’s an absolute honor for me to be here.

I am Rick Raemisch. I’m the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. I was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fill the vacancy left by the former Executive Director, Tom Clements, who was assassinated in March of last year.

In horrific irony, Mr. Clements was assassinated by an individual who had spent several years in administrative segregation and was released directly from segregation into the community, which is an absolute recipe for disaster.

The other irony involved here is that Mr. Clements had dedicated his short time at the Colorado Department of Corrections on reducing the large number of individuals in the system that were in segregation. In fact, Colorado, if not the lead percentage wise, was one of the leaders unfortunately of incarcerating people in administrative segregation.

I was picked by Gov. Hickenlooper because I had the same vision in Wisconsin and was able to do some things there. This gives me an opportunity to continue that vision.

And having spent some time in administrative segregation myself recently, it just reinforced my feelings about it, and these are my feelings and I’ll summarize it very quickly.

In my mind, over 30 years in the criminal justice system that administrative segregation is over-used, misused, and abused.

And what I feel is that we are failing in this particular area in our mission. And our mission isn’t really about running efficient institutions, although that’s certainly that we want to do, that’s something we need to do. But that’s not our primary mission.

97% of all of our inmates return back to the community, and out of those 97% some of them have been in administrative segregation. And our duty and our primary mission is very simple: make a safer community.

And the way we make a safer community is by having no new victims. And the way we have no new victims is by ensuring that the people that we send back to the community are prepared and dedicated to being law-abiding citizens instead of returning in a worse condition than they came in, and that’s where I feel we’re failing.

Some of the things we’ve done in Colorado – I was charged by the Governor with three tasks.

Eliminate or reduce the number of major mentally ill in our administrative segregation area. And what we were able to do last spring as an example – we had 50 that were in admin seg; this January there were four.

Second challenge by Gov. Hickenlooper was to eliminate or drastically reduce those released directly from segregation and into the streets. And I might ask anybody in this audience to stand up if they feel like they would like to live next to someone that’s been released directly from segregation and into the street, and I’m pretty sure people are going to stay in their chairs. What we were able to do – in 2012, we released 140 directly to the street; in 2014, we released two so far.

And the other area I was challenged by the Governor was take a look at everyone else in administrative segregation and see if you could determine that the numbers of those that should be released, and we’ve done that but it was started by Executive Director Clements. It’s being continued by me. In January of 2011, we had 1,451 in admin seg as it’s called; in January 2014, we had 597.

In a sense, I don’t feel I’m replacing Mr. Clements. I feel I’m fulfilling his vision. That’s what we’re doing in Colorado. I believe that nobody should be released directly to the community.

And some of the things that we’re doing are some that all can be doing.

I don’t disagree with anything Mr. Samuels said. I respect him. I’ve known him for quite some time. Working with the Association of the State Correctional Administrators’ association, we’ve done a lot of work and best practices.

But let me throw some things out there…as I’m running out of time. For some reason, we seem to think that for admin seg, someone is in a cell 23 hours a day. Who defines that? There’s probably some obscure court case that mandates that…but why isn’t it 22 hours a day? How about 20 hours a day? How about 18 hours a day or they start at 23 and work their way down to 10? That’s one thing we’re going to be doing.

It’s been automatic through most part that someone on death row is going to stay in administrative segregation until they’re put to death. As we know, a person spends many years and some are found innocent and released. And we’re going to be changing our policy on that and giving them the opportunity to get outside of their cells.

Where we’re going to end up in Colorado is that only the extreme violent – and that’s a small handful of all we’re talking about – are going to be those that remain in administrative segregation. But even then, that doesn’t mean we give up on them. It means we continue to find a solution to these problems.

Because as I sat in that cell for over 20 hours, my response is this is no way to treat an American; it’s not a way the state should be treating someone; it’s not a way this nation should be treating someone; and internationally, it’s not a way to be treating someone. This is receiving the right amount of attention now at the right time, and I think it’s time we move this forward.

Thank you.

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