Top

blog

Stories

 

The battle for fresh air and sunlight at Colorado's supermax

prison.bars.205x205.jpg
In the summer of 2012 a federal judge declared that the conditions of solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary constitute "a paradigm of inhumane treatment" -- and ordered that a mentally ill inmate who'd been housed there for years was entitled to at least three hours a week of natural light, fresh air and outdoor exercise. Sixteen months later, not much has changed at CSP -- which is why student lawyers at the University of Denver have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state supermax, claiming violations of the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson originally ruled against the Colorado Department of Corrections in a lawsuit brought by DU's Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic on behalf of Troy Anderson, one of several inmates who's been at CSP for a decade or more with minimal exposure to the outdoors. At the supermax, so-called "outdoor rec" for high-security inmates consists of up to an hour of exercise in an odd-shaped room on each tier equipped with a chin-up bar; small holes allow some fresh air from outside to reach the room. Calling CSP "out of step with the rest of the nation" -- even the notorious federal supermax in Florence allows its inmates outdoor recreation in individual cages -- Jackson declared that prison officials must provide its charges with "meaningful exposure" to natural light and air.

troy anderson 140x149.jpg
Anderson.
Prison officials responded to the ruling by moving Anderson to the Sterling Correctional Facility, where his recreation periods now take place in a narrow room with concrete walls that offers a small patch of meshed-in sky at its far end. Anderson, who's described the experience as "like being in a shoebox," is still battling DOC officials over whether they have properly complied with Jackson's orders in the case.

But moving Anderson hasn't done anything to correct the situation at CSP, the student lawyers maintain in their new complaint, brought on behalf of three current supermax inmates. The Anderson ruling "explicitly states that outdoor exercise at CSP was not in line with constitutional standards," reads a statement announcing the new lawsuit.

The new suit isn't seeking monetary damages, but rather a court order instructing prison officials to provide the "meaningful" exposure to fresh air and natural light that Jackson described in his ruling last year. "The Eighth Amendment does not mandate comfortable prisons," Jackson wrote, "but it does forbid inhumane conditions."

From our prison archives: "Wardens told to stop sending mentally ill prisoners to solitary."

Have a tip for this author? Send it to alan.prendergast@westword.com.



Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
26 comments
Scott Schoenherr
Scott Schoenherr

If we keep them alive they deserve fresh air and sunlight.

Valerie Cates
Valerie Cates

Every living thing needs fresh air and sunlight but this is one of those things that I'm not so black and white on especially since I have worked in corrections. I honestly think that not having basic necessities required for all other living things turns these people into even worse monsters.

Cody Haynie
Cody Haynie

They dont deserve shit except to die in the same way they killed, let alone get sunlight and fresh air. You go to prison, you rot in a concrete box til you die, another prisoner kills you, or the state kills you. Supermax prisoners deserve nothing they get, no tv, no internet, nada.

Jen Neb
Jen Neb

They deserve ,food,clothing and basic shelter...nothing more in any facility...too many perks in prisons is part of the huge problem our justice system..

Todd Elsen
Todd Elsen

Three squares a day, medical care, roof over their head. Reaping what they sow.

Bobbi Chappell
Bobbi Chappell

They don't even deserve to live if they're murders or rapists, waste of tax dollars.

Diane Lacoste
Diane Lacoste

To bad you are lucky to breathing, personally I would turn off the lights and heat. Deal with it

Justin Rodgers
Justin Rodgers

Why should prisoners be allowed to enjoy the beautiful mountain views and crisp clean rocky mountain air? Their victims don't.

Ellen Kessler
Ellen Kessler

Yeah give them the air and sunlight. They'll live longer, which means they'll suffer longer.

David Stremme
David Stremme

they asked for it - why change the conditions now?

James Sluzewski
James Sluzewski

Based on the amount of overturned convictions due to dna evidence a little sunshine and fresh air never hurt anybody

Karen Greenstein
Karen Greenstein

Did they worry about committing "inhumane" rapes and murders?

Dan Smith
Dan Smith

They get what they earned.Don't do the crime if you can't do the time

Kenneth L Herrera
Kenneth L Herrera

They deserve nothing. You don't go to prison for a suntan. They should rot on earth then in hell. Fuck them.

Jared Berger
Jared Berger

Inhumane conditions is an issue we need to think about more often. After all, our humanity is what sets us apart from theirs.

Andrew West Griffin
Andrew West Griffin

I think future generations will look back on the early 2000's and shake their heads, saying, 'Were we really ever that barbaric"?

Jeff Kohls
Jeff Kohls

Pretty sure their victims don't have fresh air and sunlight.

Aaron Harmon
Aaron Harmon

Did they murder or rape someone and take away their sunlight? Then no i dont think so

Karen Greenstein
Karen Greenstein

Do the people who were murdered get to enjoy air and sunlight? Reap. what. they. sow!

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault

 

Loading...