Even in the freaky world of criminal justice — where the high standard for transparency and open records is regularly turned on its ear — squirreling away Aurora theater shooter James Holmes in some secret state prison hidey hole is just too much.
What it does is bode ill for all of Colorado.
Colorado prison officials confirmed Jan. 20 that Holmes had been furtively sneaked out of a prison cell in a Pueblo facility created to deal with very mentally ill, very bad prisoners. In a clandestine move similar to sneaking around the likes of Al Capone, Holmes was taken to a prison that might or might not be in Colorado.
Oh, officials are talking, but they’re just giving out doublespeak.
“The move — which might have sent Holmes out of state or to a federal prison — was part of an exchange agreement with another prison,” Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson told AP reporter Sadie Gurman. “Such exchanges can happen for a variety of reasons, and revealing Holmes’ new location would ‘thwart the purpose.’”
The purpose wasn’t provided. That’s just being snide. The whereabouts of one of the state’s most notorious criminals is no game.
State prison officials say they have the right and need for such antics, but that’s a load of criminal justice junk.
It’s hardly surprising that folks representing the criminal justice system — cops, courts and prisons — regularly say they can’t reveal anything to “preserve the integrity of the case” sees how they can do what they damn well pleases with the worst of the worst that no one really cares about anyway.
Unless state prison officials say otherwise, it’s clear that Holmes has been tucked away where Colorado corrections folks don’t want anyone to know because Holmes’ life is at risk, and he may be risking the lives of other prisoners. He’s one of the most despicable criminals in the country, whose life was barely spared after a months-long, grueling trial.
Given that there are plenty of folks inside and outside of state prisons who want to do what an Arapahoe County jury could not last year, prison types should have every reason to worry.
But what this kind of spurious secrecy says loudly is that state prisons are unable to keep inmates safe — from themselves or from others.
If security is so bad that they can’t keep people inside or outside of the prison walls from killing him, what else is unsafe about Colorado prisons? Holmes is in every way a very bad hat, but he’s hardly the only one. Are others’ lives equally in danger?
If it turns out that they’ve moved Holmes secretly for some reason other than to keep him alive, it points to an even more egregious abuse of Colorado open records and meetings laws that are critical to the state’s good government.
I’m not the only one that sees this is bad news for everyone.
“The system is set up to be so secretive on the back end, where the only focus seems to be the preservation of this guy’s life above and beyond any concerns of the community and the victims,” Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler told Gurman. He raised the specter that Holmes could be sent to a state where a Aurora theater shooting victim now lives, potentially escape and go after someone.
It’s only bad news for state corrections officials. Either they’re misusing secrecy for a wholly inappropriate reason, or state prisons are so insecure that the wellbeing of prisoners and the public is clearly at risk.
Sounds to me like corrections officials and Gov. John Hickenlooper have some explaining to do. Now would be a good time.
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