Rick Raemisch, prison chief, goes to solitary -- for twenty hours

Rick Raemisch.
Last month, Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, decided to get a taste of his own medicine. He cuffed up and shuffled in leg shackles to an administrative segregation cell, bereft of TV or books. Sitting in solitary, listening to the noise from other cells, soon got him feeling "twitchy and paranoid." Within a few hours he'd lost track of time and was wondering how long it would take until he lost his marbles. "I don't know, but I'm confident that it would be a battle I would lose," he wrote in an op-ed piece in Friday's New York Times.

At first glance, Raemisch's brief journey into the bowels of the prison system he runs may seem like a cringe-worthy stunt, more Undercover Boss than Brubaker -- not that much different from a bunch of society swells ponying up a fat charity donation for the privilege of staging a pajama party down at the new jail, before those nasty inmates stink the place up. One night in a tiny cell is a far cry from what federal prisoner Thomas Silverstein, the most isolated prisoner in America, has endured in three decades in solitary, a form of mental torture that he once described as "a slow constant peeling of the skin, stripping of the flesh, the nerve-wracking sound of water dripping from a leaky faucet in the still of the night while you're trying to sleep."

But give the chief some credit; as he acknowledges in his thoughtful Times piece, his twenty hours in lockdown was "practically a blink" compared to what ad-segged inmates go through: "On average, inmates who are sent to solitary in Colorado spend an average of 23 months there. Some spend twenty years."

Evan Ebel.
Raemisch observes that solitary confinement has been overused in most states, including Colorado -- something that National Institute of Corrections researchers and ACLU lawyers have been saying for years. Both he and his predecessor, Tom Clements -- who was murdered by parole absconder Evan Ebel shortly after Ebel was released directly from isolation -- have made significant reductions in the number of ad-seg inmates in the DOC, a figure that's now less than half of what it was three years ago. And Raemisch claims that the number of "severely mentally ill inmates" in ad seg is now down to single digits.

That latter figure is a bit tricky, as we've noted elsewhere, because some inmates have never been officially diagnosed as mentally ill, even though they may have significant psychiatric needs that could be exacerbated by isolation. Still, Raemisch's effort represents a dramatic turnabout from where the system was heading just a few years ago. In his op-ed piece, he has this to say about Ebel: "Whatever solitary confinement did to that former inmate and murderer, it was not for the better."

That's a very different tune from the position DOC adopted in 2010, when it released a report claiming that, contrary to most of the established research on the subject, prolonged stay in solitary confinement has no adverse mental health effects and might even produce "initial improvement in psychological well-being."

But then, in those days, DOC was trying to justify the cost of opening a second supermax. The new chief seems preoccupied with the outrageous idea that he can keep the public safer in the long term, not by locking down every management problem for years at a time, but by preparing them for eventual release. "Our job in corrections," he writes, "is to protect the community, not to release people who are worse than they were when they came in."

More from our Follow That Story archive circa November 2011: "Solitary confinement: Isolating prisoners overused in Colorado, study suggests."

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Good piece Alan, I gotta wonder though.. what compels you to take your hard work on a serious issue into the word salad, hubris soaked hole of KNUS?

I heard the host dick sebum try to steer things down that path which inevitibly squats at the birth certificate.. and good on you for staying on issue, but really, who wonders why this DOC director would have his op ed run in the NY Times? 

I'll tell you who - the guy that bandy's about his thirty years recovery one moment, and the next, saying screw these inmates locked down like a dog.

Ah hell, maybe you go on the show out of compassion. Having said that.. next time you're doing service, ask if he's seen this old gem. No, serious as a heart attack ! It's good stuff !


I commend Mr. Raemisch for spending the 20 hours in the "solitary". Although like he said is a "blink" considering what some people are spending in Ad Seg or Solitary. He admitted his 20 hours was nothing. He said every prison chief or warden should have to spend a day, week, or month in solitary with no knowledge of when they will be released to even kind of grasp solitary.

Is 20 hours a lot? Not at all. I can sleep through that. However, how many people in the justice system around the U.S. has even done that? None that I know of. But I think it is bigger than just a chief of prisons spending a few hours in solitary. I believe ALL the people in the justice system should have to spend a week in jail and solitary. ALL! That goes for probation officers/parole officers, District Attorneys, Judges, private prison owners, etc.

If you hold someone's freedom in your hands you should have to experience the punishment you are inflicting. Even just to slightly grasp the nature of what a person in custody experiences.

Now don't get me wrong, if you do the crime do the time. That's how it goes. But I think it would solve a lot of problems within the justice system if the higher ups had to experience their own punishments.

Suni Daze
Suni Daze

you cant get the right frame of SOLITARY mind in 20 hrs . You have to feel the hopelessness of the situation ........20 hrs aint gonna do it hos.

August Ruhnka
August Ruhnka

"On average, inmates who are sent to solitary in Colorado spend an average of 23 months there. Some spend twenty years." That seems pretty reprehensible to me.

Albert Martinez
Albert Martinez

Such a publicity stunt. He was already against solitary confinement before doing it. What does 20 hours prove?

M Kathleen's Art
M Kathleen's Art

if he wanted to impress people, he should have done it for a month and have his family live on $130.00/month......just doing it for 20hrs....I say he is a pussy!


Prisons in the U.S. are psychopath factories. I have seen men come inside for minor crimes and end up staying for an extra 10-20 years for having to make decisions that were forced upon them by a schizophrenic penal system. The system is set up to fail. Which keeps the prison industrial complex full of fresh bodies.....


Spare me. Less than 24 hours in the hole, with the certain knowledge he'd be let loose as soon as he said so?

I'll be more impressed if it was 24 years there, with continuous threats of very real physical harm from both the guards and other inmates. Maybe then, instead of being a tasteless publicity stunt, it'd be a genuine insight into America's Military-Prison-Industrial complex...

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

LOL! ... real tough guy spending a single DAY in the hole.

Fucking pathetic.


Thank you for this Alan.  The dull roar has to remain constant and I appreciate your continued and thoughtful analysis. 

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