Campaign to End Torture In Washington, D.C.

We must end torture in D.C.

Washington, D.C.’s Department of Corrections uses solitary confinement three times more than the national average. The United Nations, through their Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, identified prolonged solitary confinement (isolation for longer than 15 days, 22 hours a day) as torture.

Solitary Cells in the DC Jail

On October 18, 2023, D.C. Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced the Eliminating Restrictive and Segregated Enclosures (“ERASE”) Solitary Confinement Act of 2023 to put an end to the use of solitary confinement in D.C.’s jails. The Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety now needs to hold a hearing on the bill and move it forward. There will be a budget oversight hearing of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services on Wednesday, April 10. During that hearing the "Erase Solitary Confinement Act of 2023 will be  To join us in pushing for passage of the ERASE bill in Council Period 25, you can write Council Members urging their support of the "Erase Act," by clicking here. 

Click here to send a message to each member of the DC Council. 


View the Video of the Interview with Ben Austen

Ben Austen is a journalist from Chicago. He is the author of Correction: Parole, Prison, and the Possibility of Change, which was named one of the best books of 2023 by the Washington Post. His book High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal of Excellence in Nonfiction and named one of the best books of 2018 by Booklist, Mother Jones, and the public libraries of Chicago and St.Louis. A former editor at Harper's Magazine, Ben teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Chicago. Rabbi Feinberg interviewed Ben on May 15, 2024.  


 Governor Youngkin Vetoes IAHR'S Solitary Bill

House Bill 1244 (HB1244) was adopted by both Houses of the Virginia Legislature on Monday, March 4. This is the first time legislation limiting isolation to no more than 15 consecutive days has passed the Virginia Legislature. 

On Thursday, March 14, Governor Youngkin vetoed House Bill 1244 (HB1244).  Here is IAHR's Statement in response to the Governor's veto.

Governor Youngkin's decision to veto the solitary confinement limitations bill is deeply concerning and reflects a disregard for the well-being and humane treatment of incarcerated individuals in Virginia's facilities. Despite the ongoing hunger strikes and the overwhelming support this bill received in both the Virginia State Senate and House, Governor Youngkin has chosen to prioritize his agenda over the lives of those affected by solitary confinement.

As a formerly incarcerated survivor of solitary confinement, I am profoundly disappointed and outraged

by this blatant disregard for the suffering experienced by countless individuals subjected to solitary confinement. This decision not only perpetuates the cycle of harm within our criminal justice system but also undermines any progress toward creating a more just and compassionate society.

Governor Youngkin's assertion that vetoing this bill is somehow in line with making Virginia the "best place to live, work, and raise a family" is both disingenuous and morally reprehensible. True progress cannot be achieved while turning a blind eye to the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable members of our society.

I urge Governor Youngkin to reconsider his decision and prioritize the lives and well-being of all Virginians, including those who are incarcerated. It is time to move forward with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to justice for all. 

NatashaWhite
Director of Community Engagement (IAHR)
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Email:nw[email protected]
Phone/Text: 318-295-5343

Solitary No More VA

Governor Youngkin's Veto Statement

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto Senate Bill 719, which regulates the use of restorative housing.

During the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly came together in a bipartisan manner to enact reforms to improve the Department of Corrections' utilization of restorative housing. I supported and signed that legislation, which has since been implemented by the Department, bringing in best practices that have proven beneficial for correction officers and inmates.

These reforms represent the culmination of significant efforts by the Department, positioning us as a national leader in correctional innovation. The Department remains committed to developing new programs and fostering collaboration with diverse voices and stakeholders.

Click here to read the rest of the Governor's Veto Statement.



Maryland Bills to End Prolonged Isolation in State Prisons Fail to Make it Out of Committee

Members of the MD Coalition on Solitary spent March 6 and 7 in Annapolis preparing for our hearing with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. We met with our lead sponsors, Senator Washington and Delegate  Phillips, each day. They both impressed us with their commitment to the issue, their wanting to know more information, and their sharing with us what we are up against. Two of the wardens and a Sheriff's deputy met with Delegate Phillips on Wednesday and presented their objections to him.

On Wednesday, a panel of six people presented our case for SB1085, limiting isolation in Maryland State prisons. The Committee members did not question us. However, one Corrections’ Commissioner and the current warden at MCI-Jessup testified against our bill. They argued on both days that limiting solitary would undermine security in the prisons. According to them, solitary is the fundamental way to maintain order. Without solitary there would be chaos. They also argued that there would be mass resignations of correctional officers if HB1144/SB1085 passed. We were not allowed to challenge their opinions.

 

 

 

Natasha White Testifying 

Margaret Barry Testifying

 

On March 7, Delegate Phillips was very well prepared when he presented HB1144 to the whole committee. He prepared several of his colleagues to ask our panel questions as well. A similar cast of characters representing the Department spoke in opposition. Although we had stated that the bill excludes county correctional facilities, a county sheriff spoke against the bill. He said that if the bill passed, he was afraid we would come in next year with a bill addressed to county facilities. As they did the day before, the correctional officials argued that limiting solitary would undermine security and lead to mass resignations of staff. They didn't believe that limiting isolation would save any money, although we cited evidence that it did. They seemed to indicate that they would participate in a study on the issue.

Click here for a full account of our Legislation in the Maryland Legislature. 


 Read about our Pen Pal Program.

Pen Pal Who Was Released

Interested? We’d love to hear from you! Send us a letter to introduce yourself to our pen pal coordinator. Or write to IAHR Pen Pal Program, PO Box 9731, Arlington, VA 22219. Our next pen pal orientation will be on Wednesday, March 27, 2024 at 7:30 p.m. via zoom. Click here to register.  


Voices from Inside Virginia Prisons Show Need for Robust Independent Oversight of State Prisons

Drawing from correspondence with more than 600 individuals incarcerated in Virginia prisons, Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) has released a report (the “Red Report”) calling for significant staffing and authority for independent oversight of the operations of the Virginia prison system.  The report summarizes 156 stories divided into 16 different categories of abuse ranging from alleged assaults by prison staff to inadequate  health care to ineffective and unreliable redress mechanisms.                                                                                     
Click here to read the Executive Summary
Click here to read the full report.     

 


Torture In Our Name

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture has produced a film, Torture in Our Name, that we encourage you to watch. In this 35-minute documentary, filmmaker Matthew Gossage showcases the tenacity and resilience of people who have faced the torture of solitary confinement first-hand and are working to end it once and for all.