• November 17, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Rick Raemisch, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections

    In 2011 my predecessor, Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements, was hired and began reforms in the use/misuse of solitary confinement. At that time 1,500 inmates, almost seven percent of Colorado inmates, were in solitary confinement. Many of them were held in these cells 23 hours per day for years. Each year 40 percent of those in solitary were released directly from solitary to the community. When I started with the Department, I heard stories of correctional officers removing an inmate from solitary in leg irons and handcuffs, placing him on a public bus, removing the shackles and then leaving him alone on the bus with the public. Ironically, in 2013 Mr. Clements was assassinated by a former inmate who had spent seven years in solitary and was then released directly to the community.

    I was hired by Governor John Hickenlooper to continue and complete the reforms Mr. Clements had started. We initiated aggressive programs to decrease the use of solitary confinement. We felt that we had failed in our mission. The use of solitary confinement, particularly for non-violent inmates, was primarily to run a more efficient institution. That is a noble goal, but not our mission. Our mission is public safety, and by the overuse of solitary, particularly the practice of releasing individuals directly from solitary to the community, we were releasing people worse than when they entered prison. I believe that the use of solitary does not solve problems—it merely suspends them. I also believe that long-term solitary multiplies mental illness and manufactures disruptive behavior. Now, our reforms have proven that the use of solitary confinement can be extremely decreased and, for the most part, used only for the violent offender.

    Currently, we have approximately 150 inmates in what we now call restrictive housing – less than one percent of our population – and those individuals know when they are getting out. In the past, an inmate could be placed in solitary for an indeterminate amount of time. They had to earn their way out by means of graduating to various levels. Often times if they acted up their time started over and they could spend years in solitary. Today, the maximum amount of time an inmate can spend in solitary is one year, and that is only for the most violent offenders.

  • October 15, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Irin Carmon of MSNBC reports on the Supreme Court’s temporary reversal of Texas’s restrictive abortion law that closed all but eight abortion clinics in the state.  

    In Politico, Jost Gerstein examines the possible reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s recent rulings on voter ID laws. 

    Jamelle Bouie argues in Slate that while voter ID laws disproportionately impact people of color, the main motivation for voter ID laws is hyper-partisanship, not racism.

    On the blog for the Brennan Center for Justice, Jonathan Brater praises Colorado for expanding voting access.

    Joe Davidson of The Washington Post argues that a Supreme Court case on a federal whistleblower could have enormous implications. 

  • September 3, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Sam Kamin, Director, Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program and Professor, University of Denver Strum College of Law

    The Department of Justice recently announced how it would enforce federal marijuana law in those states seeking to legalize marijuana under their own laws. In a memo to United States Attorneys around the country, Deputy Attorney General James Cole set out the priorities that govern the federal government’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act’s (CSA) marijuana prohibition. The government, Cole wrote, was primarily concerned with the distribution of marijuana to minors, the involvement in marijuana trafficking of organized crime, the distribution of more serious drugs along with marijuana, and the transfer of marijuana from states where the drug was legal under state law to those where it was not.  So long as those states seeking to legalize marijuana had robust regulatory regimes in place to address these concerns, businesses acting in conformance with state law would generally not be an appropriate target of federal enforcement, whether criminal or civil.

    The DOJ memo marks a major change in direction for the federal government. As recently as 2010, Attorney General Holder had made clear to the people of California that the federal government would not countenance a state decriminalizing and regulating recreational marijuana manufacture and sale. Furthermore, previous enforcement memoranda from the DOJ had drawn a distinction between legitimate medical use of marijuana on the one hand (which the government stated would not be an enforcement priority) and large-scale commercial production (which remained a valid target for federal prosecution). The 2013 Cole Memo makes clear that the size and for-profit nature of marijuana establishments was but one factor to be considered by United States Attorneys in determining whether to enforce the CSA in states that had sought to legalize marijuana. 

    For state officials in Washington and Colorado – which both passed marijuana legalization initiatives in 2012 – this word from the DOJ was long-overdue good news; with this announcement, the states could complete the final stages of their marijuana regulations and begin licensing businesses to open their doors in early 2014.

    But the memo can do only so much to alleviate the uncertainty and confusion caused by the continuing federal marijuana prohibition. In the first place, the memorandum is a unilateral act of the executive and can always be undone by other unilateral executive actions; when a new presidential administration takes over in January 2017, there is no telling how it will view the federal government’s marijuana enforcement priorities. 

  • December 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    If the Obama administration decides to move aggressively to scuttle efforts in Colorado and Washington State to take a different – many would say progressive – approach to the war on marijuana it won’t be because the administration had no alternative. Indeed plenty of academics, pundits and federal lawmakers are hoping the administration will support, not hinder, the experimentations in those two progressive Western states and are airing plenty of ways the administration could respond.

    University of Denver law school professor Sam Kamin detailed some of the possibilities the government could take with respect to the marijuana legalization initiatives that passed with strong support in Colorado and Washington. One of the possibilities Kamin highlighted was a bill recently introduced by Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) “allowing states to essentially opt of the CSA [Controlled Substances Act outlaws marijuana and is administrated by the Drug Enforcement Agency] enforcement by passing laws that conflict with the federal prohibition ….”

    Rep. DeGette in a press statement announcing the legislation said several of her colleagues were concerned “about the federal government’s ability to override these voter-approved initiatives ….”

    “In Colorado,” DeGette said, “we’ve witnessed the aggressive policies of the federal government in their treatment of legal medicinal marijuana providers. My constituents have spoken and I don’t want the federal government denying money to Colorado or taking punitive steps that would undermine the will of our citizens.”

    In a piece for Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson writes that while the federal government “cannot force” Colorado and Washington “to impose criminal sanctions on pot possession,” the federal government “has great power” to block the states’ abilities to tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. (In an editorial, the magazine’s publisher Jann S. Wenner hopes the president won’t tap that power and urges an end to the war on weed calling it a “sham, a folly, a colossal waste of money and human potential.”)

  • December 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Obama administration may be on the verge of irking large swaths of its supporters by employing scarce Justice Department resources to go after users of small amounts of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, where voters, by comfortable margins, voted to legalize limited amounts of possession.

    The New York Times’ Charlie Savage reports that senior officials in the administration “are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.” Savage goes on to describe some of the possibilities the administration could take – sue the states arguing that federal law trumps state action in this area. (The Controlled Substances Act prohibits sale and possession of marijuana.) The Justice Department wouldn’t talk to Savage about administration plans on the matter, but did highlight a statement issued recently by the U.S. Attorney in Seattle, stating that marijuana remained illegal pursuant to the CSA.

    Andrew Sullivan notes that Pete Guither views the Savage piece as a trial balloon “to see what kinds of reactions there are and what political fallout might come from action … or inaction."

    Sullivan obliges, writing that if administration officials decide “to treat the law-abiding citizens of Colorado and Washington as dangerous felons; if they decide to allocate their precious law enforcement powers to persecuting and arresting people for following a state law that they have themselves just passed by clear majorities; if they decide that opposing a near majority of Americans in continuing to prosecute the drug war on marijuana, even when the core of their own supporters want an end to Prohibition, and when that Prohibition makes no sense … then we will give them hell.”