In 2010, a man named Troy Geske died at the Colorado Mental Health Institute of Pueblo after being wrestled by staff members onto a bed, where he was restrained with straps and left by himself, face down. He asphyxiated.
Geske’s death resulted in the state’s paying a $775,000 settlement to his family and a ban on the use of prone restraint in state hospitals. The tragedy also accelerated a concerted effort in Colorado to limit the use of seclusion and restraint for people receiving mental-health treatment.
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.
Growing demand for intensive mental-health treatment in the state and a decline in the supply of psychiatric beds have put added pressure on emergency rooms. In cases when patients pose a danger to themselves or others, ERs become the default holding place.
Mental health became a top priority for some Colorado lawmakers following the Aurora theater shootings and the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The state made a large investment in mental health services during the 2013 session, but there have been setbacks since.