No outdoor exercise in solitary: CREEC and the Civil Rights Clinic file class action against CDOC

Inmates in solitary confinement at the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) never get to exercise outside. In fact, unless they are being transported to another facility, to court, or to the hospital, they never go outdoors at all. Ever. Today, we and our co-counsel from DU’s Civil Rights Clinic filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of three inmates at CSP against the Colorado Department of Corrections challenging this practice.

Instead of outdoor exercise, inmates in solitary confinement at CSP get to spend at most one hour per day, generally five days per week, in an exercise cell that looks like this:

A bare and narrow cinder-block room demonstrating small exercise space with minimal natural light.
Exercise Area at Colorado State Penitentiary

The CDOC calls this “outdoors” because the tall, narrow windows at the end open to the outside. But even that limited exposure is recessed from the wall and covered with a thick grate:

Narrow grated window in exercise area of CSP demonstrates lack of natural light.
Window in Exercise Area at Colorado State Penitentiary

If this case sounds familiar, that’s because Judge R. Brooke Jackson has already held that this denial of outdoor exercise is unconstitutional in our Anderson case. Judge Jackson’s August 24, 2012, opinion stated:

Mr.  Anderson   . . . has been deprived of any form of outdoor exercise, and virtually any meaningful exposure to fresh air, for 12 years. Nothing was presented in the evidence of this case to suggest that the end is in sight. Coupled with the other conditions of administrative segregation at the CSP, this prolonged deprivation is a paradigm of inhumane treatment.

Anderson v. Colorado, 887 F. Supp. 2d 1133, 1140 (D. Colo. 2012). He gave the CDOC 60 days to present a plan to remedy this violation.  Id. at 1157. Just before this deadline, the CDOC moved Mr. Anderson out of CSP to the Sterling Correctional Facility.* Another inmate, Jacob Oakley, who challenged CSP’s lack of outdoor exercise was also transferred out of CSP. That is, in response to individual lawsuits, CDOC moves inmates around rather than actually solving the problem by providing required outdoor exercise. This despite the fact that, as Judge Jackson found, CDOC has been on notice for years that CSP was deficient. See id. at 1141-42.

As part of the court-ordered settlement negotiations in Anderson and prior to filing today’s class action, we asked the CDOC to let us know their plans — if any — to provide outdoor exercise at CSP. They refused. Given that, over a year after Judge Jackson’s order, there is no sign that CDOC plans to remedy this violation, the plaintiffs in the case filed today took the step of representing their fellow inmates to try to solve this problem facility-wide.

* Judge Jackson later stated, in a September 4, 2013 hearing, that the exercise areas at Sterling also do not satisfy the Eighth Amendment.   We are still attempting to negotiate with CDOC to resolve that matter.

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