Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

Alternatives for Nonviolent Infractions and Time Limits for Restrictive Housing


Colorado Department of Corrections

Brief Summary

The Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC) revised their disciplinary policy to limit placement in disciplinary segregation, create alternative sanctions, and limit the amount of time someone can be placed in disciplinary segregation.

The Goal

The goal of this policy change was to reduce intakes and length of stays in disciplinary segregation.

The Process

CDOC staff developed alternative sanctions and trained other staff on using alternatives, which ultimately led to time limits in restrictive housing of no more than 15 days.

The Solution

CDOC revised their disciplinary policy to limit placement in disciplinary segregation for only the most violent, dangerous, and disruptive behavior and excluded people who commit minor rule infractions from being placed in disciplinary segregation. They also limited the amount of time someone can spend in disciplinary segregation to 15 days.
Alternative sanctions were developed for minor rule violations, including:

  • Housing Restriction Sanctions, where individuals are confined to their cell with the exception of work/program assignments, meals, and medical/mental health appointments; and
  • Immediate Accountability Resolution, where individuals and supervisory staff agree on a set of sanctions together. This can include a verbal reprimand, earned time deduction, repayment of damages, loss of dayroom privileges, confinement to cell (with the exception of work/program assignment, medical and mental health appointments) for 24 hours, loss of recreation privileges for up to 3 days , loss of electronic devices for up to 3 days, or an extra work assignment.

Staff training during roll call and formal in-service training were critical to the implementation of these changes.

The Results

Since these changes were implemented, no one is in any form of restrictive housing (using the ACA definition of RH) for longer than 15 days. The average length of stay in restrictive housing for the time period of April 2017 through March 2018 was 8.39 days. Individuals receiving a disciplinary sanction to restrictive housing reduced from 7,225 for the time period of April 2015 through March 2017 to 5,412 for the time period of April 2017 through March 2018 .

As a result of this and other reforms, CDOC has seen many positive results in the safety of their facilities. From 2008 through 2015, the average number of individual-on-individual assaults dropped 17 percent and assaults on staff decreased significantly. Between 2008 and 2013, there were an average of 262 assaults on staff per year, and those numbers dropped to 188 in 2014 and 160 in 2015. In 2015, there were an average of 158 individuals serving up to one year in Restrictive Housing-Maximum Security in Colorado, spending up to 22 hours a day in their cells. Now, no one is in an environment where they are in their cell for 22 hours per day for longer than 15 days.

Lessons Learned

Critical factors for the success of limiting the use of restrictive housing to 15 days was the coordination between facility wardens and central classification to schedule and execute appropriate facility reassignment if the disciplinary infraction resulted in a reclassification to a different facility. Tracking systems were developed to ensure the 15-day time limit was not exceeded. Staff buy-in was accomplished by soliciting ideas for alternative sanctions and to include immediate consequences for negative offender behavior.

Related Documents

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.