Pepper spray and restraint chairs: "Use of force" at Colorado's supermax
The year began with Manuel Rodriguez being strapped into a restraint chair. It ended with Rodriguez back in the chair.
Photos and more below.
At Colorado's state supermax prison, inmates get into confrontations with guards -- over food, hygiene, privileges, a refusal to "cuff up" or whatever -- out of boredom, mental illness or plain orneriness. Some claim to be provoked by staff.
Whatever the reason, it's a contest the prisoner is going to lose every time.
Colorado Department of Corrections documents obtained by Westword reflect a year's "use of force" incidents at the Colorado State Penitenitary, where the state's most disruptive inmates are confined to their cells 23 hours a day. There were 61 such incidents reported from March 1, 2012 to March 1 of this year, ranging from situations that merely required minor physical contact, known in prisonspeak as "soft empty hand control," to standoffs resulting in cell extraction teams unleashing pepper spray or confining belligerent prisoners to restraint chairs.
Rte50.com Colorado State Penitentiary.
Although proponents of supermax prisons claim that they act as a deterrent to violence elsewhere in the corrections systems, the facilities also become repositories of "problem" inmates, whose failure to follow the rules tends to prolong their stay in solitary confinement -- and possibly exacerbate any preexisting mental problems. (As we've previously reported, roughly a third of CSP inmates have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness.) Overall, the use-of-force incident numbers have dropped dramatically at CSP since the late 1990s, when the staff was averaging ten cell extractions a month.
But troubles in supermax are often a good indicator of trouble down the road, too. Evan Ebel, the parolee believed to have killed a pizza delivery man and DOC chief Tom Clements before dying in a shootout in Texas, acquired an extensive disciplinary record at CSP and the Sterling Correctional Facility before his release earlier this year.
The 61 CSP use-of-force incidents logged for a twelve-month period, obtained through an open records request, involved a total of 41 inmates -- with just four prisoners accounting for more than a quarter of the reports. Although the DOC declined to release details of each incident, DOC regulations call for an escalating spectrum of force, depending on the level of perceived threat.
The log lists twelve instances of "emergent need entry" into cells, generally triggered by an inmate being unresponsive or refusing to obey rules (such as refusing to put hands through the food slot to be cuffed before staff entry); ten cell extractions, including five using pepper spray; 31 episodes of varying degree of force to subdue inmates, from "soft empty hand control" to "hard intermediate control;" four uses of the restraint chair; and four occasions when a SORT team was activated but no use of force was required.
Continue for more about the use of force at Colorado's supermax.