Next week Sen. Ellen Roberts will vote on a bill that would place limits on the use of solitary confinement in Colorado’s prisons. This bill is a call to our conscience, and we honor God when we courageously speak out against actions such as solitary confinement that harm the soul and safety of our communities.
Solitary confinement may sound merely like a long timeout for misbehaving prisoners. But in reality, it is far harsher than that, bordering on or even crossing the line to become cruel punishment. As religious leaders, we strongly believe that prolonged solitary confinement is immoral. It denies the innate human need for social interaction, and it works against the correctional system’s end goal of rehabilitation by undermining the mental health of the prisoners.
We grieve knowing that when we hold prisoners in prolonged solitary confinement, especially those who suffer from mental illness, we inflict injustice and undue suffering on another human being. Our God created all people, each one of us with dignity and worth and when we subject another human being to such cruel punishment, we strip them of these God-given rights.
While we agree with Sen. Roberts who has stated she believes greater societal responsibility is needed to mitigate the increasing number of mentally ill that end up in prison, we know that solitary confinement is not the answer in the meantime. There should be no debate that the mentally ill do not belong in solitary for extended periods of time.
That is why the Colorado legislature is considering a bill, introduced by Sen. Morgan Carroll and Rep. Claire Levy, which would limit the conditions under which prisoners may be placed in solitary. A mental health clinician would be required to evaluate any prisoner known to be mentally ill to determine the suitability of such confinement. Other inmates placed in solitary would undergo a mental health evaluation after 30 days, and then after each subsequent 30 days. All inmates must be reintegrated into the general prison population six months before a release date. The measure comes as the state’s Department of Corrections report shows that the proportion of prisoners in solitary confinement who have developmental disabilities or mental illness has more than doubled in a decade. That same report says that more than 40 percent of inmates who are released from solitary confinement are released directly to their community, without an opportunity to readjust to social interaction; of those, two-thirds return to prison within three years.
A Harvard psychiatrist, who has studied the effects of solitary confinement for more than two decades, has written that prisoners who experience extended periods of isolation experience symptoms akin to delirium. These symptoms, according to Dr. Stuart Grassian, are “characterized by a decreased level of alertness, EEG abnormalities … perceptual and cognitive disturbances, fearfulness paranoia, and agitation; and random, impulsive and self-destructive behavior …”
We do not want people suffering from such effects released back into our communities without a period of transition.
In addition, the financial costs of solitary are high — the state spends more than double, per inmate, per year to hold a prisoner in solitary confinement, as compared with the general prison population — something our state government can ill afford during these difficult economic times.
We must commit ourselves to the important work of healing the soul of our community by supporting legislation and investing in treatment programs that encourage true rehabilitation of inmates, thereby helping to decrease violence in our state’s neighborhoods and communities.
We stand with Colorado Interfaith Voices for Justice and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) in striving to uphold our commitment to a God who demands that we respect the dignity of all human beings.
Rev. Carlos A. Alvarez, Rev. Dr. Cynthia H. Chertos
I read an article by John Graves regarding universalist association and assorted others who marched against Arizona’s new anti-immigration law. That is so offensive to most Americans who want the laws of our country to be enforced. Polls show Americans are not anti-immigrant, but anti-illegal alien. If you want to live here, the very least thing you should do is obey the law.
Doug G. Bell Sr.
This is the letter we sent to the county attorney in regard to the upcoming discussion on the development of Square Top ranch:
Who is responsible for Square Top?
Who is responsible for this giant in our midst, this iconic monument that has existed since primordial times, this beacon that beckons from all points? What did the Ute and Apache people call it? Does anyone know?
We first saw it from the top of a hill in New Mexico over 34 years ago and wondered what was at its base. We drove north and watched it growing larger on the horizon as we wound our way toward Pagosa and into the Blanco Basin. The next day we bought our ranch right there. How many of us have been drawn to this area and then taken for granted the majesty which called us to come here in the first place? Is not Square Top worthy of our praise and careful stewardship?
Imagine a Wayne Justus painting with a couple of cowboys washing their feet in a stream and behind them a tangle of roads and houses, dust and artificial light pollution at the base of this iconic structure. Imagine the noise, the road rage, the unnecessary accidents, the disruption of wildlife, the loss of the magic that makes us all pause as we consider the future of this beautiful landmark. It is not an easy task to consider how our sacred places should be managed to allow those in the future to witness the awesome natural systems at work and/or the awfulness created by a myopic world view.
Is it not enough to live with the elk, the lynx, the badger and the lion; to have chance encounters on a quiet, slow drive into this paradise at all hours? Are we not the privileged few that are deciding the outcome for all the rest, even those that buy homes in future subdivisions? Should we not learn from our neighbors, the Betty Shahans and Bob Lindners, who have made reaping money from their land not their highest value?
Is this a NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue, or is it an issue for all of us who love Pagosa Country? Let us, who are responsible, make our decisions wisely.
Bob Dickey and Annie Waterman
The crows and ravens can take some credit for Pagosa’s abundant litter from overfilled trash cans, but the litter from people drinking in their cars and tossing out empty contains … nope!
Thank you to the 4-H members for picking up trash, but the job isn’t nearly done. We all need to pitch in. There seems to be more than usual and no one group can do it.
Should the kids or anyone have to pick up all the beer, liquor, wine trash, glass bottles, aluminum beer cans, plastic shot bottles, quart and half gallon containers?
Isn’t it illegal to drink and drive? Or to have open containers in your car?
Many people in our community are breaking those laws, putting them and us at risk, as well as littering.
There are dozens of glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans on every block in the Lakes area. What can be done? How can we encourage obeying the law and stopping littering?
Recently, the pages of The SUN have been rife with controversy with little analysis of the root causes. A couple of our leaders resigned, caught up in the Archuleta County cultural wars. Our political leaders, often newcomers, want high end subdivisions, airports, Big Boxes, etc. A substantial number of Archuleta citizens are opposed to such developments just on general principles. Others, (well, at least me) don’t care one way or another about such developments, but strongly object to paying for them.
The only reason the airport exists is because of massive subsidies from the federal and county governments. The airport should be paid for by the users not by the taxpayers. The subdividers and builders take us taxpayers to the cleaners. The cost of the planning department (almost a half million dollars per year) should be borne by those who benefit, not the taxpayers of Arboles. Down here, the planning department is nothing but a nuisance. I certainly can understand the objection of the small business people objecting to subsidizing a Big Box in order to put themselves out of business.
During my weekly excursion to Pagosa for my soak in the Spa and to do my grocery shopping, I usually notice a help wanted ad on the City Market door for a workers whose pay will be about ten dollars and I read in The SUN that a typical house in Pagosa sells for about a quarter of a million dollars. No way can a local afford to live in Pagosa. Our political leaders routinely hire outside operators to remake Archuleta County. These operators know that to make the county grow they must bring in outside millionaires with high end subdivisions, airports, big boxes, etc. and the only way to get the high rollers to come is with tax subsidies.
The reason for so much dissension in the county is that our leaders are at loggerheads with a large portion, perhaps a majority, of the citizens. Perhaps the Chamber of Commerce should include a DVD of the movie The Milagro Beanfield War in their welcome package. I hope the Republicans in their selection of a new county commissioner give due consideration to candidates who know and respect the people of Archuleta County.
I would like to continue introducing local heroes to you.
I have known Dennis Martinez for several years and he has had his ups and downs. However, come spring and the American Cancer Society has the sale of daffodils as a fund-raiser. Dennis worked hard and many of the businesses cooperated and Dennis had success, so this year he hoped to sell 10,000 bunches. The last I know, he had sold over 7,000.
Dennis is also the one who paints the beautiful scenes on the windows of the businesses all over town. They are more beautiful and these windows and the daffodils are a perfect harbinger of spring.
Thank you, Dennis.
I wonder, is it really possible for change to occur here in Pagosa Country? With certainty, I know it can. It’s just going to take the right attitude.
Week after week, the articles to the editor continue to beat up our community, its leaders, its ideas, its growth and its efforts to grow. Truly (the not so hidden no growth agenda) is not supported by the majority of the residents, so it is past time for the majority to speak up.
To any “Pocket Liners” out there, please come. Come to beautiful Pagosa, and try to make a profit, please! I welcome you and believe most residents will. Pagosa can offer so much; sure we need to put a strong emphasis on controlling the growth and maintaining this beautiful country. Growth needs to add to the beauty of this area not turn it into an eyesore. There is no reason that this cannot be accomplished.
To my fellow residents, if you have already lined your pockets and moved to this pristine country, please don’t try to shut the gate behind you. There are many of us that still have skin in the game. The game of making a living, and hopefully a profit that might support us in our later years. The majority of us need new development, new growth, new jobs, better services, more things for our families to do. We need better places to shop, eat and play, the list goes on. Please if you have skin in the game of making a living, speak up, and make your voice be heard. For those of you who have your hand on the gate behind you, push it back open and vocalize your solutions on how to keep our needed growth as clean as it should be.
Our economy and future is dependent on growth; if the gate continues to be nearly shut, more and more business will perish, more good people will leave, looking for greener pastures, the town could shrivel up and become an eyesore to our gorgeous views that exist all over Pagosa, and no one wants that. So let’s embrace the growth we need, as well as our prosperity.