In an Effort to Protect Prisoners, Colorado Bends its Rules on Solitary Confinement

The Colorado Department of Corrections has been locking inmates in single-person cells for nearly 23 hours per day sometimes for months on end, according to state records and interviews with Colorado inmates. 

The department is isolating and quarantining inmates as part of an effort to protect prisoners and control the spread of COVID-19, a disease that has contributed to the death of 28 prisoners in Colorado.  

Inmates say the lockdowns are taking a toll on their mental and physical health. This prolonged isolation is also testing the department’s policy on solitary confinement, which is a form of punishment the department limits to 23 hours per day for no more than 15 consecutive days. 

The Department of Corrections has extended lockdowns, which limit how much time inmates spend out of their cells, when staff or inmates tested positive for COVID-19. Inmates may spend longer in quarantine if they’re scheduled to be transferred to a prison that has an outbreak, according to the department.

John Herrick, a Colorado-based journalist, spoke to Matt Harter, a 50-year-old from the Denver suburbs, about what it was like to spend 67 days mostly alone in his cell at Centennial South.

photo credit: Centennial South on July 19, 2019 (Photo by John Herrick)

Listen to the report here: