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Open the Door - Segregation Reforms in Colorado
By Rick F. Raemisch & Kellie Wasko
Published: 01/11/2016

Prison cell w The following is Part 2 of 3 in a series about segregation reforms in Colorado

Restrictive Housing – Maximum Security Status

Maximum security status is the most restrictive offender management status for those offenders who have demonstrated through their behavior that they pose a significant risk to the safety and security of staff and other offenders. The use of restrictive housing is an offender management process requiring specific actions and reviews for placement and/or progression. Offenders that enter into Restrictive Housing – Maximum Security status are sanctioned according to a matrix for their violent infractions and the maximum length of stay at this highest level of incarceration is 12 months. Offenders know when they enter the date that they will come out. And all offenders are reviewed monthly for progression based on behavior and interactions with unit staff. Offenders can be released earlier than their sanctioned time.

Offenders in Restrictive Housing do not receive pod time with other offenders. They do, however, have access to monthly out-of-cell “meaningful contact” visits with case managers and mental health clinicians, and are reviewed on a monthly basis to determine possible progression out of Restrictive housing prior to the term of their Restrictive housing sanction.

Offenders are allowed outside of their cells one hour a day, five days a week, and are able to earn a TV after three months, based upon their behavior.

Close Custody Management Control Units

A close custody designation provides an increased level of housing, supervision and control to maintain the safety of the public, volunteers, staff and offenders. Assignment to Close Custody Management Control Units (MCU) is primarily used as a progressive management assignment for offenders who are progressing from Restrictive Housing Maximum Security Status.

Close custody management control units were established within both the Colorado State penitentiary (CSP) and the Sterling Correctional Facility (SCF). Offenders assigned to close custody management control units are allowed out of their cell for a minimum of four (4) hours per day, seven (7) days per week, with up to seven other offenders, to participate in pro-social group pod/day hall, recreational, and programming activities, which includes a minimum of three hours of indoor or outside recreation per week. Offenders assigned to close custody management control units are reviewed by mental health and case management every thirty (30) days for treatment needs and progression.

Close Custody Transition Unit (CCTU)

Assignment to Close Custody Transition Units (CCTU) is primarily used as a temporary (6-month) progressive management assignment for close custody offenders who are either progressing from Close Custody Management Control Units or for newly arrived offenders who score close custody on their initial intake classification.

Close custody transition units were established within the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP). Offenders assigned to the close custody transition unit are allowed out of their cell for a minimum of six (6) hours per day (7 days per week) with up to sixteen (16) other offenders, to participate in pro-social group pod/day hall, recreational, and programming activities, which includes a minimum of three hours of indoor or outside recreation per week.

Thinking for a Change Programming

This program, required of Close Custody Transition Unit offenders, aids in transition to General Population or the community by increasing awareness of the criminal thought process and altering criminal thoughts through a pro-social paradigm shift. It also focuses on increasing positive peer interactions and developing problem-solving skills. Thinking for a Change is an empirically supported program with a track record of significantly reducing recidivism rates.

Residential Treatment Program

In 2014, the Colorado Department of Corrections partnered with the legislature and advocates to facilitate the first ever legislation forbidding the placement of seriously mentally ill offenders in long term isolation, absent exigent circumstances. This was a tremendous step for the nation as it codifies a current practice to stop the long term isolation of these mentally ill offenders through statutory mandate. While working with the team to develop the bill, the Department of Corrections proceeded with eliminating the housing of offenders with serious mental illness in our administrative segregation facility.

In December of 2013, DOC aggressively stopped the admission of offenders with serious mental illness in this most isolated environment, well ahead of the passing of the legislation that would codify that policy later in 2014. By January of 2014, all offenders designated as having a serious mental illness were evaluated and moved out of administrative segregation to either a Residential Treatment Program or a general population setting. The DOC also removed and banned administrative segregation assignments within the Residential Treatment Programs, problematic behaviors would be addressed through treatment modification, not isolation. Since inception of the law, the Colorado Department of Corrections still has not identified a patient or situation it was not able to work through that caused the exigent circumstances to apply.

This law has motivated the Department and its leadership to find solutions for housing those with serious mental illness who demonstrate dangerous behaviors. As a matter of fact, the department has taken reforms to the maximum effect and implemented policies so that offenders are assessed for mental health needs and serious mental illness. This assessment takes place long before they are placed into a restrictive housing environment. When there are infractions committed for those with serious mental illness, they are removed from the disciplinary process and treated if it is determined that their mental illness is unstable and contributed to the infraction committed. If the infraction was committed and their mental illness is stable, they are referred to a management control unit and not restrictive housing. The goal is to maintain their pro-social interactions and not isolate them. The first step in developing solutions has been the design and re-design of Residential Treatment Programs within the corrections environment.

The Residential Treatment Program model was designed to provide extra care and support for offenders with serious mental illness or intellectual disability, and to ensure these individuals are not placed in Restrictive Housing settings. Any agency wishing to explore reforms in Restrictive Housing cannot be successful without addressing the mentally ill. Segregation units across the nation become a convenient option to house offenders who are often times acting out based on exacerbation of mental illness. Colorado was no exception to this convenient housing assignment and designed and re-designed a program and process to capture this population on the front end of sanctioning to prevent further disruption to mental well being. The program’s success hinges on offenders working together in group therapy and engaging in one-on-one sessions with mental health clinicians. Both clinical and line staff collaborate daily to provide individualized offender support. The Department of Corrections designed and built restraint tables that accommodate up to 4 offenders restrained together to facilitate group and pro-social interactions with a therapist or clinician. This allows the safety of the environment, the offenders and the staff member, but encourages offenders to get out of their cells in small groups.

Another key component of the Residential Treatment Programs has been the implementation of a National Consultants recommendation to introduce opportunities for the offenders in the program to come out of their cells for a minimum of 10 hours for structured therapeutic interventions and 10 hours of non-structured recreational opportunities, per week. With the struggles of employing mental health clinicians across the nation, the CDOC was again no exception and identified concern with meeting the 10 hours for structured therapeutic opportunities out of cell. The department has experienced increased compliance with the implementation over time with the introduction of registered and licensed clinicians to meet the needs of the population.

Since its inception, the program has facilitated successful outcomes for offenders. Offenders who had lived in Administrative Segregation for years have progressed through the program and excelled in group environments. Many of these offenders hold steady prison jobs and continue to make positive changes.

This population of offenders is unique in that they are often times comfortable and safe in the confines of a segregation cell by themselves. They prefer not to participate in groups and psychotherapy appointments – and they have the right to refuse to come out. The Department is not going to inflict force to make these patients come out. So the Department of Corrections Division of Clinical Services and Prison Operations staff had to work together to develop incentives to get these offenders to come out to treatment. Some of these incentives include the introduction of dogs to attend treatment groups or treatment meetings, the use of de-escalation rooms where offenders can listen to soothing music and change their environment other than their cell and also the ability to participate in art therapy where they can draw and express their thoughts without talking. The Department has worked very hard to develop means to get these offenders out of their cells and coping with their mental illnesses.

The Department of Corrections has 3 Residential Treatment Programs, 2 designated for males and one program designated for females:

The San Carlos Correctional Facility Residential Treatment program is a 255 bed facility that houses our most acutely mentally ill male offenders. In 2013, the DOC removed all Administrative Segregation sanctions within this facility that houses those with Serious Mental Illness.

The Centennial Correctional Facility Residential Treatment Program is a 240 bed program that houses those male offenders with chronic mental health treatment needs for a longer period of treatment.

The Department has identified significant outcomes (raw data) over the course of the last fiscal year as it relates to the management of these facilities:

San Carlos Correctional Facility:
  • Special Controls in the last year at SCCF has been reduced by 93%
  • Forced cell entries in the last year at SCCF have declined by 77%
  • And offender on staff assaults in the last year at SCCF have declined by 46%
  • Centennial Correctional Facility:
  • Special Controls in the last year at CCF have declined by 85%
  • Forced cell entries in the last year at CCF have declined by 81%
  • Offender on staff assaults in the last year at CCF have been reduced by 50%
Behavior Modification Plans

In both the Management Control Unit and Close Custody Transition Unit, staff use Behavior Modification Plans to increase or strengthen the pro-social interactions of offenders. These plans are designed, implemented, and monitored by a multidisciplinary team. Line staff, through their daily interaction with offenders, play an integral part in their implementation. Should an offender behave inappropriately, line staff can use these plans to redirect him and immediately hold him accountable.

Female and Youthful Offender Management

In 2015, the Department of Corrections adopted policy and practice that does not allow for female or youthful offenders to be placed into Restrictive Housing - Maximum Security status. The Department recognizes that both females and youthful offenders require a management style to include due process and sanctions that are consistent with Trauma Informed practice.

Continue reading next week on Corrections.com...!

Rick Raemish has been the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections since 2013. Rick has successfully implemented prison reforms in Colorado resulting in a safe, dramatic reduction of offenders held in administrative segregation, now less than 1% of the population, and eliminating the use of administrative segregation for offenders suffering from serious mental illness. Throughout his career in criminal justice, Rick has held many esteemed positions including Sheriff of Dane County, Wisconsin and head of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.

Kellie Wasko is the Deputy Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Prior to her appointment, Kellie was the director of clinical and correctional services and the warden for multiple correctional facilities throughout the state. She has spent time working in adult and juvenile detention in both the private and public sectors.


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