Tag Archives: Colorado State Penitentiary

“Outdoor” “exercise” at the Colorado State Penitentiary

Since throngs of you* have been asking, “hey, what’s up with that outdoor exercise case you all were working on,” I thought today — the day after a massive two-brief filing** — would be a good time for an update.

In 2010, we and the Civil Rights Clinic at the University of Denver filed a lawsuit against the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) on behalf of Troy Anderson, who had been in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) for over a decade without outdoor exercise. Instead, he was permitted to exercise here for one hour per day five days a week.

Image:  Bare concrete cell with two tall slit-like windows at the far end.

CDOC called this “outdoor exercise.”  As it turned out, Judge Jackson did not.  In August, 2012, he held that this limited exercise violated the Eighth Amendment and ordered CDOC to provide Mr. Anderson with

access for at least one hour, at least three times per week, to outdoor exercise in an area that is fully outside and that includes overhead access to the elements, e.g., to sunlight, rain, snow and wind, unless inclement weather or disciplinary needs make that impossible.

Anderson v. Colorado, 887 F. Supp. 2d 1133, 1157 (D. Colo. 2012).

Instead of providing outdoor exercise at CSP, as the Eighth Amendment requires, CDOC moved Mr. Anderson to Sterling Correctional Facility where he exercised here:

Image:  Concrete enclosure approximately 6 and a half feet wide and 20 feet high. Concrete extends to eight feet high on all sides of the end of the enclosure, with mesh over the sides and top. A man stands in the middle, his back to the camera, with his hands extended out to each side. He can almost touch each side of the enclosure. The only other thing in the enclosure is a chin-up bar mounted on the concrete wall on the left just behind the standing man.

In September, 2013, Judge Jackson held that that wasn’t outdoor exercise, either, and believe it or not we’ve been jawboning with the CDOC ever since. That’s a whole nother post!

Meanwhile, back at CSP, inmates in solitary still weren’t getting outdoor exercise, so in December, 2013, we filed a class action lawsuit to essentially enforce the outdoor exercise holding in Anderson. This case — Decoteau v. Raemisch — is still pending before Judge Martinez. Six months after we filed, the CDOC announced changes in the regulations governing solitary, but still did not provide for outdoor exercise. A month after that — late July of last year — the CDOC announced a plan to seek funding from the legislature to build an outdoor exercise area at CSP by the end of 2016. Progress, right? Contingent on the legislature. Over two years away. But glimmers of progress, right? Not so fast: the plan still did not incorporate outdoor exercise for inmates in the status the CDOC now calls Restrictive Housing Maximum Security Status or “Max.”

Last October, we filed a motion for partial summary judgment in the Decoteau case on the claim that inmates in Max were not getting outdoor exercise. In response, Defendants announced that they would provide outdoor exercise for Max inmates for one hour a day, three days a week. Here

 Image:  Two reddish-pink walls about 20 feet high, in the corner of which is an 8' x 10' by 8' high steel-mesh cage.  Orange traffic cones are laid out in the area between the camera and the cage to show the outlines of two identical future cages.

in that cage.   Or one of two others to be built where the cones outline their perimeters.  The ceiling of this slightly-less-than-700-square-foot area is 20 feet above the ground and made of steel mesh and (in part) razor wire.  Here is the ceiling

Image: four-sided opening covered with steel mesh and razor wire.

and here is an architect’s 3D rendering, as seen from above.

Image: sketch of an irregularly shaped space largely occupied by three steel-mesh cages.

Inmates who have been in Max for more than nine months will be allowed to exercise in one of the cages for one hour three times each week.  The remainder of the space around the cages constitutes the “outdoor exercise” available once each week to inmates in a status called “close custody transition.”

On Friday, we filed our reply brief, as well as a response in opposition to the CDOC’s motion for summary judgment.  Big kudos for all the great work by clinic students Jenny Vultaggio and Kevin Benninger and their professors Lindsey Webb and Lauren Fontana.  And stay tuned for further developments in “outdoor” “exercise”!


*  Actually, just my step-dad.  Hi, David!

**  Thanks & a shout out to our paralegal, Sophie Breene, a/k/a the PACER-whisperer, who discovered mid-filing that the CDOC had put such impenetrable security features on the pdf of its regulation that not only was she unable to add an exhibit sticker, but the federal court’s electronic filing system would not accept it.  Now that’s security!

[Cross-posted at the CREECblog.]

Headline: White Conservative Gadfly Goes to Jail; Dislikes Gravy

That’s how the headline should have read in the center, front, above-the-fold article in today’s Denver Post.  I wish I were kidding.

Douglas Bruce went to jail for 104 days and faced cruel and unusual punishment:  the rolls were cold and the gravy tasted funny.  And he’s gonna sue.

I don’t know who to be more furious with:  Bruce for being a selfish jerk, or the Denver Post for devoting so much space on its front page to a middle class white guy who goes to jail for just over three months and fails to receive gourmet-level cooking.

Denver Post, Mr. Bruce, I’d like you to meet Troy Anderson.  Mr. Anderson has been in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary for 12 years.  In those 12 years, he has not been allowed to exercise outdoors.

I’d have loved to introduce you to Shawn Vigil but, sorry to say, he’s dead.  He committed suicide at the Denver County Jail in 2005 — after being locked up for a month in solitary without a sign language interpreter.  You see, Mr. Vigil was deaf.  He was in solitary with no way to communicate with his jailers.  Wonder what he thought of the gravy?  Perhaps the Denver Post will write a front page story about that.

Actually, the Denver Post did write about Mr. Vigil’s case when we filed.  This many words.   Though I don’t have the print edition, I’m confident it wasn’t on page one.  Former Post columnist Susan Greene* also wrote about it in more detail, but of course she’s not there any more.  Can’t have someone providing nuanced coverage of marginalized people.

Back in the day, Spy Magazine had an equation for how many column inches a story would get in the New York Times based primarily on the number of people killed and the distance of the event from Times Square.**  Although I’m not a math major, there has to be some sort of equation at work here:  R x C x L x G where R = race, C = class, L = length of sentence, and G = quality of gravy.  In the newspaper world, being white (r = 100) and middle class (c=100) will completely outweigh the length of your sentence and other conditions.


* Full disclosure:  Susie is a friend.  And also a kick-ass journalist.  The lack of her voice (and other recent departures) in the Post makes it not much more than People Magazine:  Denver Edition.

** Yes, of course it’s on the internet:  the November 1989 issue of Spy Magazine.    The equation is on page 56.  Check out page 55 for proof that Donald Trump has been annoying us for a long, long time.  And generally peruse the issue to take yourself back to a time when being a smart-ass, sarcastic, irony-appreciating young law grad felt fresh and new.  Or maybe that was just me.

[June 2:  Edited for accuracy.]