Colorado Rights Blog


  • Cedric Watkins is a father, uncle, entrepreneur-in-training, and a vital community pillar for many others. While behind bars, he has tirelessly devoted himself to serving his peers and his community. He developed gang disaffiliation programs for other incarcerated individuals and is currently involved with Defy Ventures. He sends letters and calls his daughter as much as he can.

    Cedric is currently in prison at Sterling Correctional Facility. He was convicted of aggravated robbery, burglary, kidnapping, theft and sentenced to 80 years; no one was seriously injured or killed. For comparison, a person convicted of second-degree murder in Colorado faces a maximum sentence of 48 years. Cedric has already served 20 years and has fully rehabilitated during that time.

    It’s time to bring Cedric home: Redemption is real. Clemency is compassion.

  • On November 21, 2016, 13 Aurora police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at Alberto Torres’s home. As happens all too often, Aurora police officers escalated this minor issue into a brutal affair. They beat Mr. Torres solely because he delayed exiting his garage to ask his wife to interpret for him. With that beating, the lives of Mr. Torres and every member of his family were changed and he has yet to recover. ACLU of Colorado fought to obtain justice for Mr. Torres, and Aurora has now paid him $285,000. But money is not justice, and the brutality of the Aurora Police Department against people of color has continued unabated.

    It doesn’t have to be this way.

    Imagine, if instead of 13 officers being dispatched to Mr. Torres’s home for a noise complaint, the City of Aurora sent a civilian-led response team to check on his welfare and ask that he and his friends lower their sound, resulting in a non-violent solution to a minor issue?

    ACLU Settles Case With Aurora After Police Brutalize and Unlawfully Arrest Alberto Torres

  • Hope is a discipline. It’s a commitment that together, we can create a more perfect union. We won’t rest until we fulfill the promise of equal rights for ALL people in the United States.

    Join us in our fight to fulfill this promise and move forward with hope by donating to the ACLU of Colorado. Your donation supports the ACLU’s strengths that make our work effective and collaborative.

    Donate now at

  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

CO Prisons Continue to Warehouse Mentally Ill in Solitary Confinement

July 23, 2013

New ACLU report examines legal, moral, and fiscal implications of housing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, urges CDOC chief Rick Raemisch to end the practice

DENVER – The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) continues to rely on long-term solitary confinement to manage mentally ill prisoners, often for months or even years, according to a new report released today by the ACLU of Colorado.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Colorado’s continued warehousing of mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, draws on 18 months of research, including interviews with prisoners, analysis of CDOC data, site visits, and review of prisoner health files and finds that, while the overall number of prisoners held in solitary confinement has decreased in recent years, the proportion of those prisoners who suffer from mental illnesses has increased.

According to the report, more than half of the prisoners currently housed in long-term solitary confinement in Colorado have significant mental health needs.

“Warehousing mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement is not only costly, cruel and unlawful, it puts the public at serious risk,” says ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace, who drafted the report. “When mental illness goes untreated, or is made worse by solitary confinement, it can lead to criminal or antisocial actions once a prisoner is released, leaving the public to suffer the consequences.”

On any given day in 2012, between 537 and 686 mentally ill prisoners were held in solitary confinement in Colorado prisons. The average length of stay for mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement was 16 months.

Courts and psychiatrists agree that prolonged isolation poses a substantial risk of causing or exacerbating mental illness. The ACLU report chronicles instances of solitary confinement driving untreated mentally ill prisoners to a psychotic state, leading them to attempt suicide, attack others, eat their feces, or “bang their heads against the wall in an effort to drown out the voices in their heads.”

Under former Director Tom Clements, CDOC initiated the Residential Treatment Program (RTP) in early 2013 as a means of providing intensive mental health care to prisoners with the most significant mental health needs, but the ACLU found that seriously mentally ill prisoners are still being disproportionately housed in solitary confinement. As of last March, CDOC housed at least 87 “seriously mentally ill” prisoners in solitary confinement, the majority of whom had been living in isolation for more than a year.

“Courts are unanimous in their view that prolonged solitary confinement of seriously mentally ill prisoners is cruel and unusual punishment that violates the Constitution,” says Wallace.

In 2001, a federal court ordered the Wisconsin DOC to remove all prisoners with serious mental illness from the Supermax Correctional Institution. Incoming CDOC Director Rick Raemish led the Wisconsin DOC after the lawsuit settled while following a policy against confining seriously mentally ill prisoners in the supermax facility.

“Given Mr. Raemish’s successes during his tenure at the Wisconsin DOC, we are hopeful that he will bring to CDOC a true understanding that a state prison system can be managed safely and effectively without warehousing seriously mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement,” says Wallace.

The report includes the following recommendations for CDOC and its incoming director:

(1) CDOC should bar seriously mentally ill prisoners from placement is prolonged solitary confinement.

(2) CDOC should adopt policies requiring mental health involvement in disciplinary and criminal charging decisions related to seriously mentally ill prisoners.

(3) All seriously mentally ill prisoners, including those at the lowest levels of the Residential Treatment Program (RTP), should be provided a minimum of 20 hours of out-of-cell time per week, including 10 hours of dedicated therapeutic time.

(4) The Residential Treatment Program should be fully staffed to provide out-of-cell therapeutic and non-therapeutic time. To accomplish this goal, CDOC must have the funding and the will to fill all mental health staff positions, particularly those of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses.

Click here to read the report.

Click for a fact sheet on the mentally ill in solitary confinement in Colorado.

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