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The Colorado Department of Corrections has agreed to halt a practice that caused an inmate at Sterling Correctional Facility to be held in restraints for 12 days inside a cell, during which he was forced to defecate in a bucket and prevented from washing his hands or cleaning himself. 

The department will also pay $500,000 to Zackariah Jones, 37, who filed suit in U.S. District Court in Denver alleging he was held under inhumane conditions in December 2018 without running water after deputies suspected he swallowed drugs.

In announcing the settlement Tuesday, attorney David Lane said the prison’s then-warden, Matt Hansen, refused to release Jones until he had produced what the prison called a “substantial amount” of feces under its policy for contraband investigations. 

The department is also investigating other policy changes regarding “dry celling,” a form of solitary confinement in which prisoners suspected of carrying drugs and other banned substances in their bodies are subjected to 24-hour lights and surveillance and deprived of access to running water. 

The lawsuit, filed in December 2020, also named 66 other defendants, all correctional officers or nurses at Sterling Correctional Facility, the largest prison in the state about 120 miles northeast of Denver.

The lawsuit stemmed from an incident Dec. 1, 2018, when six prison workers strip-searched Jones, who had filed many grievances against corrections officers. He was placed in handcuffs and leg restraints inside an unheated cell lacking sufficient water, his lawyer said. 

Prison staff refused to loosen his wrist restraints that were secured to a belly chain to allow him to clean himself after defecating, or take a shower, his lawyer said. Feces dried on Jones’ body and caused painful, long-lasting sores.

He was also barred from changing his clothing and could not spend any time unrestrained or lie down during the day, his lawyers said. Jones was held the full 12 days even though he passed a drug test and no contraband was ever found in the bucket.

Under the new policies, prisoners being monitored in detention must be allowed to properly clean themselves and change their jumpsuits when soiled, or every 72 hours, according to the settlement agreement. CDOC also must offer prisoners laxatives to speed up the digestive process, and if no contraband is found after three bowel movements, prisoners must be released from the cell. A medical professional must sign off before prisoners are held longer than 72 hours. 

A CDOC spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. It’s not clear whether the department launched its own internal investigation into the allegations presented in Jones’ lawsuit. 

By signing the settlement agreement, CDOC did not admit liability, the agreement said.

Jones has a parole hearing scheduled for April 2024 and has a mandatory release date in November 2028, according to the CDOC website.

Olivia Prentzel covers breaking news and a wide range of other important issues impacting Coloradans for The Colorado Sun, where she has been a staff writer since 2021. At The Sun, she has covered wildfires, criminal justice, the environment,...