Use of Restrictive Housing in Jails Restricted by the House

DENVER, CO– Today the House passed Representative Judy Amabile’s bill to prohibit local jails from placing certain individuals, like people with serious mental health disorders or pregnant women, in solitary confinement. The bill passed third reading by a vote of X-X. 

“The psychological stressors of solitary confinement are tantamount to torture, and can have deep, devastating consequences for minors and individuals with serious mental illness,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder. “By putting guard rails around the use of restrictive housing, we can prevent tragic suicides and instances of self harm. Incarcerated individuals don’t check their human rights at the county jail’s door- I’m proud that we voted in favor of a more compassionate criminal justice system today.” 

Multiple studies have shown that restrictive housing, also known as solitary confinement, can create psychological stress that clinically compares to the distress of physical torture. According to the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, prolonged solitary confinement is cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment, and harmful to an individual’s health. A 2012 study commissioned by the US Attorney General found that “confined youth who spend extended periods isolated are among the most likely to attempt or actually commit suicide.” The Colorado Department of Corrections and Division of Youth Services both banned the use of long-term solitary confinement in 2017.

HB21-1211 would prohibit local jails with a bed capacity of 400 beds or more from placing individuals in restrictive housing if they meet one of several characteristics, including if the individuals are under 18 years old, have a serious mental illness or neurocognitive, visual or auditory impairment, or are pregnant or in the postpartum period. 

The bill requires that when individuals are placed in solitary confinement involuntarily, jail staff checks on them multiple times an hour and notifies a medical or mental health professional within an hour of placement, as well as the individual’s legal representative or emergency contact within 12 hours of placement. To keep someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 days in a 30-day period would require the sheriff’s office to obtain a written court order. The bill also requires jails to keep records of data regarding individuals placed in restrictive housing.