James Holmes Getting Special Treatment at the State Supermax?

Less than a month after his trial, Aurora theater shooter James Eagan Holmes has begun serving his sentence of life without parole — plus 3,318 years — in Colorado's highest-security prison, the Colorado State Penitentiary.

The supermax is known for housing some of the system's most dangerous inmates in isolation; but sources inside CSP say Holmes is getting special treatment and has been placed in a sixteen-cell pod that has no other occupants.

Housing particularly notorious criminals has always presented a challenge to corrections officials; they are often targets for other inmates looking to make a name for themselves, as in the case of cannibal-turned-prey Jeffrey Dahmer.

If Holmes had received the death penalty for killing twelve people and injuring seventy more during the 2012 theater shooting, he would have been shipped to the state's death row at the Sterling Correctional Facility, to await execution alongside Nathan Dunlap, Robert Ray and Sir Mario Owens. But at least one juror proved adamant about not sentencing Holmes to death because of evidence that he suffered from mental illness, so he's ended up where the Colorado Department of Corrections sends many lifers who are classified at "close" custody level: the supermax.

According to a letter to Westword from another CSP inmate, "Holmes has been placed in a sixteen-man pod all by himself. He gets out of his cell two hours in the a.m. and two hours in the p.m. Whenever he is out of his cell, a guard sits in a chair in front of the pod and watches him. I thought you might be interested to know the amount of resources DOC is expending on this dude. Also, it seems there is some mollycoddling going on since most people with notorious/high-profile crimes would just be put in restrictive housing until they could be integrated into Management Control Unit status."

DOC spokeswoman Adrienne Jacobson confirmed that Holmes is housed at CSP in a management-control unit, which is the term DOC now uses instead of "administrative segregation" or "solitary confinement."

The fact that he is isolated on his own pod is partly a function of the number of empty beds at CSP now, she says. The facility has an operational capacity of 756 beds but currently has only 620 occupants.

"CSP is currently below capacity, and there are units which have few or no offenders in them," Jacobson wrote in an e-mail response. "Offender Holmes is receiving out of cell time and privileges in accordance with his close-custody classification. There are no additional staff or resources in place at CSP to manage offender Holmes. The management and the observation of offender Holmes within CSP and during his out of cell time is pursuant to the guidelines established for the management and supervision of all close-custody offenders in management control units."  
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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast