Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday appointed Wisconsin’s former prisons chief as the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.
In addition to his prison work, Rick Raemisch also has experience as a prosecutor and as the former Republican elected sheriff of Dane County, which encompasses that state’s capital, Madison.
According to a news release, Raemisch helped lower the prison population for three consecutive years for the first time In Wisconsin’s history. “He also built strong reentry initiatives and saw positive results,” it read.
Raemisch’s appointment comes about three months after the shooting death of state Corrections Chief Tom Clements by a parolee who was released from solitary confinement directly onto the streets. Evan Ebel, who had a long history of mental illness, cut off his ankle monitor days before Clements’ shooting, and his parole officer didn’t seek a warrant for his arrest until the corrections director was dead. Mishandling in Ebel’s case and others prompted the department to fire state Parole Chief Tim Hand on Thursday.
For his part, Raemisch described himself in a prepared statement as “a strong law and order individual, but I also believe that people can change.”
“More than 90 percent of all inmates return to where they came from. They will go back in one of two ways: They will either go back angry and likely re-offend; or they will go back prepared to reenter the community and be law-abiding citizens.”
Watchdogs will be closely observing Raemisch’s handling of solitary confinement – a form of long-term isolation that Clements set out to reduce in Colorado. Despite Clements’ closure of one of two state supermax prisons and his success cutting so-called “administrative segregation” dramatically, the state was housing 87 seriously mentally ill prisoners in isolation as of February. Of those, 74 had been in solitary confinement for more than a year and 14 had been isolated for more than four years.
Civil rights advocates, who are pushing to lower those numbers, welcomed news of Raemisch’s appointment Thursday.
“The Governor’s announcement signals an intention to further former Director Tom Clements’ goals of ensuring greater safety for the public, protecting civil liberties, and preparing prisoners for successful reentry into society,” said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.
Clements’ murder in March deeply shook the corrections department, Hickenlooper’s administration and admirers in the law enforcement, criminal defense and civil rights communities.
“Some of us haven’t had a chance to grieve over this,” department spokeswoman Alison Morgan told The Independent earlier this week. “From the night the call came about Tom, we knew that he would have wanted us to move on and work.”
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