IAHR represents people of faith who educate and advocate in Maryland, DC and Virginia for corrections systems that avoid unnecessarily punitive practices such as solitary confinement and that instead focus on rehabilitation and successful reentry.
IAHR envisions a societal system of corrections that
Is free of racism,
Is rehabilitative rather than punitive, and that...
- Honors the dignity of each human being,
- Helps people return to society well prepared to carry on with fulfilling and productive lives and
- Holds those in power in the system responsible for implementing these principles.
IAHR also envisions a society that minimizes the use of corrections by addressing the need for economic opportunity, education and healthcare of all of its members.
IAHR contributes to the realization of our vision by bringing interfaith-based action to bear on prison reform in MD, DC (and the Federal Bureau of Prisons), and VA by:
- the end of all forms of brutality & torture in prisons and jails,
- limiting the use of solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days and working toward its elimination,
- the development of rehabilitative alternatives to the current system of mass incarceration and
- improvement of education, medical care, and mental health services for those incarcerated,
Providing supportive correspondents as well as legal and other services to those who are incarcerated and
Educating the general population on prison reform.
Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) launched its first pen pal program in 2017 to keep DC residents connected to their communities while serving time in federal prisons around the country. Since then, we’ve connected over 250 inmates and local volunteers who exchange letters at least once a month.
Joining our program is an opportunity to:
- Build a new friendship
- Stay connected to your community
- Learn more about prison conditions in Maryland
- Share your story to inform our work on prison reform.
Interested? We’d love to hear from you! Send us a letter to introduce yourself to Ingrid Johnson, who is helping organize the Maryland Project.
We ask our pen pals to write at least once a month for a year. Most of our pen pals have been writing to their correspondent for more than a year. Most have developed very good relations with their pen pal and have learned a lot about the person, the operations of the Bureau of Prisons, and the criminal justice system.
We ask everyone interested in becoming a pen pal to attend an online orientation that lasts about an hour. The next orientation is on Wednesday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. If you are interested, please contact John List who is the project chair.
Muslim Advocates Sues Virginia Prison for Records on Treatment of Muslims
Muslims at Wallens Ridge Allegedly Prevented from Observing Ramadan, Experienced Violence and Unhygienic Conditions
On Tuesday, April 6, 2021, Muslim Advocates sued the Virginia Department of Corrections for records related to prisoner complaints at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, VA. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Gay Gardner, a Virginia resident and advocate with Interfaith Action for Human Rights who has received numerous complaints about abusive treatment by Wallens Ridge staff towards incarcerated Muslims including physical violence, retaliation, unhygenic conditions and practices that prevent Muslims from receiving adequate food and drink during Ramadan.
Motivated by complaints from prisoners and news reports of mistreatment of prisoners at the Wallens Ridge facility, Muslim Advocates first sent a public records request to the Virginia Department of Corrections on behalf of Ms. Gardner in 2020. The Department responded with no documents specific to Wallens Ridge, a high security prison, and only a small number of documents concerning high-level policies. The Department also announced that it was withholding important categories of records, including complaints by prisoners about religious mistreatment, claiming that they fall under an exemption to Virginia’s public records law designed to protect prisoners’ personal records. The lawsuit challenges both the Department’s failure to produce records and the Department’s invocation of this exemption.
“With Ramadan set to begin in just a few weeks, we must know how Muslims at Wallens Ridge are being treated,” said Gay Gardner, advocate at Interfaith Action for Human Rights. “We have received extremely disturbing reports that Muslims at the facility have been subject to violence, threats and bigotry from the staff at Wallens Ridge. It is simply outrageous that the state of Virginia is avoiding accountability by withholding these public records.”
“The reports of mistreatment of prisoners at Wallens Ridge are troubling, and the documents being sought in this lawsuit will be an important part of understanding their practices,” said Matt Callahan, senior staff attorney at Muslim Advocates. “Virginia’s state legislature has made clear through its robust public records laws that public oversight of the prison system is important. By refusing to produce these records, the Virginia Department of Corrections is fighting the purpose of the law and obstructing an important check against prison abuse.”