Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill Friday, June 6 that bans the practice of keeping seriously mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement.
The bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, won the support of advocates and rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who say the isolation of prisoners with mental illness violates the constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and endangers public safety.
Out in the empty plains of northeast Colorado two years ago, nine inmates line up against a wall inside the Sterling Correctional Facility. It's a line of green jumpsuits and gray hair.
The men, hobbling on canes, wait for the others to pull plastic chairs into a circle so class can begin. Today's instruction is about what life is like on the outside: how to use an ATM, how to find a job, what the Internet is.
These men have been in prison for two, three or four decades. These are things none of them know.
Larimer County law enforcement, either on the street or in the county jail, say they're seeing more significant and persisting mental illnesses like mood, bipolar, psychotic disorders and schizophrenia.
The shift is taxing resources with Emergency Rooms, health care providers, jail resources and the Fort Collins Police Department.
People with mental illnesses in Colorado are more than five times as likely to be housed in jails or in prisons than in hospital psychiatric beds. Colorado’s sheriffs say county jails are overwhelmed with inmates who need hospitalization or treatment for their mental health problems – not incarceration.