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DU Student Law Clinic suing state prison, charging cruel and unusual punishment

Suit alleges mentally ill inmate is denied care and prescription medication


University of Denver (DU) law students are suing Colorado prison officials, claiming authorities are refusing care to a mentally-ill inmate. The suit, filed in federal court May 3, alleges officials are violating federal law by withholding the inmate’s medication, holding him indefinitely in solitary confinement without a legal process to question the confinement, and denying treatment ordered by the prison system’s own doctors.

Student lawyers, Patrick Curnalia and Ashley Wheeland, at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic, led by supervising attorney Brittany Glidden and co-counsel Amy Robertson of the Denver civil rights firm Fox & Robertson, say 40-year-old Troy Anderson is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment at the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City. Housed in solitary confinement, the mentally ill man is denied all human contact and hasn’t been allowed access to outdoor recreation yards or felt the sun on his skin in more than a decade.

Because of his mental illness, which causes erratic behaviors when he is not medicated, Anderson has been in jail or prison for 23 of his 40 years. Prison officials have insisted that Anderson must remain in solitary confinement until these behaviors are controlled. Yet, they refuse to provide him the medications prescribed by the prison’s own doctors.  His attorneys say, as a result he risks being incarcerated for the rest of his life, largely because of a mental illness.

The DU student attorneys also challenge an arbitrary, prison demerit system allowing officials to secretely issue “chrons,” black marks on inmate records that are never fully explained and serve as another barrier to progressing out of solitary confinement.  Currently, Anderson’s most likely exit from these conditions is through parole, but he doesn’t become eligible for another 31 years – at age 71.  Unlike the vast majority of prisoners in Colorado, Mr. Anderson and others in solitary confinement have no ability to shorten this time through good behavior.

As a result of the prison refusing to treat him, Anderson is subjected to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and that prison officials are violating Anderson’s right to due process of law, as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to the lawsuit.

The suit is not seeking Anderson’s release for prison. Attorneys are asking the court to order proper medical care, treatment and medications for Anderson. In addition, the suit seeks an end to the arbitrary “chron” demerit system, potentially affecting prison inmates statewide.


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