Did Some of Colorado's Prison Reforms Die With Tom Clements?

This week's cover story traces the dramatic shift in direction of the Colorado Department of Corrections since the 2013 murder of its chief, Tom Clements, by Evan Ebel, a violent parolee who'd just spent six years in solitary confinement. The death of the reform-minded Clements had a profound impact on DOC operations, leadership and morale, but the lasting effects of the tragedy on prison policy and public safety are still being debated.

See also: After the Murder of Tom Clements, Can Colorado's Prison System Rehabilitate Itself?

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Sixth Murder at Sterling Triggers Investigation of Troubled Prison

A Facebook photo of Cody Gray.
The recent murder of an inmate at the Sterling Correctional Facility -- the sixth homicide at the state's largest prison since 2010 -- has prompted Colorado Department of Corrections executive director Rick Raemisch to promise an "intensive" investigation into the circumstances of the death. The killing comes in the wake of claims that prison staff at Sterling have repeatedly placed at-risk prisoners, particularly sex offenders, in life-threatening situations.

"This is our house," Raemisch said in an interview with Westword yesterday morning. "These people are our responsibility."

See also: Sterling Prison Murders Blamed on Staff Indifference, Misconduct

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Denver County Jail is growing its own food with an aquaponics system

Courtesy of Colorado Aquaponics
The city's $3.25 million settlement with Jamal Hunter is just the latest hit the Denver Sheriff's Department has sustained in recent weeks. Between charges that complaints of abuse have been ignored and accusations that guards have been drinking on the job, smuggling in drugs and porn and instructing inmates to beat each other until they have "pumpkin heads," there's little good news coming out of the Denver jail system. But while the controversy grows, the Smith Road facility is growing something else: food.

See also: Dahlia Square could become a garden spot -- but right now, plans are sowing dissension in the neighborhood

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Sterling prison murders blamed on staff indifference, misconduct

James Bergman beat a child killer to death the first day they were put in a cell together. Additional photos below.
Court records and testimony prompted by a wave of inmate homicides at the Sterling Correctional Facility claim that SCF officers have repeatedly placed at-risk prisoners, particularly sex offenders, in life-threatening situations -- and that some staff have even celled deadly enemies together to "teach a lesson," fully expecting one inmate to attack another.

The result has been mayhem on a grand scale: Five inmate murders at Sterling in a two-
year period that ended in 2012. An internal investigation, with findings never made public, was ordered by prison chief Tom Clements before his own murder last year. A lawsuit was recently filed by one victim's family, with possibly more to come.

See also: Gabrial Adams, serving life, found dead in prison for mentally ill

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Video: Hear Christopher Lopez's jailers joke and laugh while he slowly dies

Categories: News, Prison Life

Christopher Lopez during some of his final moments. Warning: The video and photos below may disturb some readers.
Update: Last week, we told you about a lawsuit accusing Colorado Department of Corrections personnel with allowing mentally ill inmate Christopher Lopez to die while they watched; see our previous coverage below.

Now, attorney David Lane has released a 47 minute video that compiles shocking footage from Lopez's final hours. Be warned that some readers may find the images disturbing.

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Photos: Graduation day for students in Colorado's Youthful Offender System

Photo by Emerald O'Brien
A graduate of the Century High School Class of 2014 after the changing of the tassels on Friday.
Friday's graduation ceremony at Century High School in Pueblo looked like a typical outdoor ceremony, with programs used as fans, students wearing shades, and oldies radio blaring through speakers. But after the ceremony, the thirty graduates didn't get to leave the facility forever. In fact, they didn't even get to leave the campus for the day.

Century High School is a program within Colorado's Youthful Offender System (YOS), a medium security prison housing offenders who committed a violent crime before their 21st birthday.

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Video: Why Donny Andrews is STILL in prison and ex-sheriff Pat Sullivan isn't

Donny Andrews, near the start of his 81-year sentence.
Two years ago, former Arapahoe County sheriff Pat Sullivan managed to chisel down a pack of squalid allegations involving methamphetamine, trading drugs for sex, exploiting a mentally challenged individual and even a sort-of admission of sex with minors into the world's sweetest plea deal, copping to one felony and one misdemeanor, in exchange for a mere thirty days in jail and probation.

At the time, we noted that a fellow named Donny Andrews had particular reason to be outraged at the break that Sullivan got.

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Thomas Silverstein: Thirty years of solitary not "cruel and unusual," judges insist

Thomas Silverstein.
After more than thirty years of solitary confinement -- including a quarter-century of good behavior, during which he committed no disciplinary infractions -- convicted killer Thomas Silverstein still poses too great a threat to other inmates, staff or himself to be allowed to circulate in the general prison population, according to a three-judge panel representing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Three decades of isolation, including the past nine years at the federal supermax penitentiary in Florence, have produced only "mild psychiatric symptoms" in Silverstein and don't amount to a violation of constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment, the panel ruled late last week.

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Solitary confinement: Inside bill to limit isolation of mentally ill prisoners

Andrew Bardwell
In January, Colorado Department of Corrections chief Rick Raemisch drew headlines when he sent himself to the hole for twenty hours, so he could get some idea of what it's like for prisoners serving time in solitary confinement. Raemisch believes that isolation cells are overused in the state prison system, particularly for mentally ill inmates -- and now a bill making its way through the state legislature aims to fix that.

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Millions served: Pie chart gives fresh look at who's in U.S. jails and prisons

Reporters generally do a lousy job of analyzing the incarceration rate in the United States -- which, despite recent sentencing reforms, remains the highest in the world, with more citizens per capita behind bars than in Cuba, Rwanda or Russia. That's why a recent report by the Prison Policy Initiative, featuring a nifty pie chart that parses out the distinct systems of confinement in the U.S., is such a welcome tool -- it locks down who's locked up in our jails, prisons, juvenile and immigration detention facilities and more, giving a startling snapshot of Fortress America.

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