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  • 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. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.

Denver Women’s Correctional Facility Ends Degrading Body Cavity Searches After ACLU Letter & Online Advocacy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 24, 2010
CONTACT:  Mark Silverstein, Colorado ACLU Legal Director, 303-777-5482 x114

DENVER – Officials at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) today implemented a new strip search policy that no longer allows correctional officers to engage in degrading body cavity searches during which they previously had forced prisoners to open their labia and, according to some reports, even to pull back the skin of their clitorises. 

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Colorado last month sent a letter to Ari Zavaras, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, charging that the searches – which occurred even when guards had no particular reason to suspect concealment of contraband – raised grave concerns under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In its Aug. 25 letter, the ACLU said that while courts have upheld visual inspections of prisoners, forcing women to hold open their labia for inspection on a routine basis is gratuitous and constitutes unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and humiliation. 

“Officials at DWCF deserve credit for eliminating these degrading searches,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director for the ACLU of Colorado. “The U.S. Constitution protects prisoners from having to endure pointless and humiliating treatment.” 

In addition to its letter, the ACLU issued an online call-to-action for the public to email Mr. Zavaras and ask him to stop the degrading search policy.

Experts on mental health care in prison have estimated that as many as 80 percent of women who are in jail or prison have been the victims of domestic violence and physical abuse prior to their conviction, a reality that compounds the infliction of pain caused by the needless body cavity searches. The ACLU said in its letter that courts have found that the previous sexual abuse suffered by many female prisoners increases the trauma caused by invasive strip searches and heightens the constitutional violation. Indeed, the ACLU received letters from prisoners at DWCF who complained that being forced to comply with the previous search procedures – which in some cases occurred under the threat of being doused with pepper spray – exacerbated prior sexual trauma.

The ACLU also asserted in its letter that DWCF’s previous procedures could jeopardize the safety of communities across the state of Colorado by undermining the rehabilitation of prisoners and compromising the Colorado Department of Corrections’ stated goal of “assist[ing] offenders’ successful re-entry into society” and “reduc[ing] the likelihood of future victims.” The ACLU’s letter charged that prisoners had refused visits from friends and family in order to avoid post-visit searches.

“These searches had a devastating impact on prisoners and threatened to undermine rehabilitation,” said David Shapiro,” staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project. “We will remain vigilant and in contact with DWCF prisoners to ensure that the new procedures are implemented properly.”



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