August 2019 Newsletter

August 2019 Newsletter


Interfaith Action for Human Rights


The August issue of the IAHR Newsletter features a reminder to RSVP to the September 4 Event featuring Congressman Jamie Raskin, a report from IAHR Secretary Gay Gardner on IAHR Interventions in Virginia, a report by Rabbi Feinberg on a meeting with Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Brian Moran, a news article on the Federal Halfway House in Washington, DC, and an article from the Brennan Center for Justice on how many states both reduced crime and incarceration. 


Save The Date: "Human Rights at the Prison Door"  
Report on IAHR Interventions in Virginia
Meeting with Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security 
Plans for New Halfway House Still Unsettled 
Brennan Center for Justice: Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem

 "Human Rights at the Prison Door" 

         Interfaith Action for Human Rights cordially invites you to

         "Human Rights at the Prison Door"

A reception and program featuring Congressman Jamie Raskin (8th District-MD)

The reception is free and will include wine, beer, soft drinks, and hors d'oeuvres.

Donations to Interfaith Action for Human Rights are appreciated.


Contact Rabbi Charles Feinberg · [email protected] · 202-669-7700 for any additional details or questions. See you there!


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Report on IAHR Interventions in Virginia

By Gay Gardner, IAHR Secretary

Curtis Garrett, who was attacked and seriously injured by a K-9 unit at Sussex I State Prison last December, was released from prison in May after completing his sentence and is living with his mother.  After the attack, he was placed in solitary confinement and was subsequently transferred to Wallens Ridge State Prison, much farther from his family.  Curtis did not receive appropriate medical care during his confinement and is scheduled to have surgery this month.  He and his family greatly appreciate the messages of solidarity and concern many of you sent to him and to corrections officials.

Darius Richards and Kelvin Lipscomb, who were temporarily disabled and recovering from surgery in the medical unit at Sussex I State Prison, were among those who were forcibly extracted from the unit by officers in riot gear on May 30.  They were placed in solitary confinement and, to the best of our knowledge, remain there.  Part of their story appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Darius Richards reports that witnesses to the incident have been pressured by internal investigators to change their stories and that he has suffered retaliation by one of the officers involved in the incident.  A report of the VADOC investigation is expected soon.

Mr. D, who has struggled with mental illness and been in and out of solitary confinement many times, completed his sentence and was transferred to Hampton Roads Regional Jail in May, where he will remain for several more months because of an earlier parole violation.  He is destitute and has no place to go when he is ultimately released.  IAHR worked with Washington Post columnist Theresa Vargas to bring attention to his experience, and we put him in touch with a reentry support organization that is trying to assist him.

Jeff Bondi, Ben Brittain, and two other inmates at St. Bride's Correctional Center were abruptly sent to Sussex I State Prison and kept in solitary confinement for several weeks after what was almost certainly a harmless prank in May and was considered as such by St. Bride's staff who witnessed it.  Their treatment violated multiple internal VADOC regulations and illustrates the lack of meaningful due process for incarcerated people in Virginia.  They were subsequently sent to four different detention facilities much farther from their families and will have their sentences lengthened because of this incident.  IAHR has raised questions and concerns with VADOC officials about their treatment. 

Randall Via, who has spent many years in solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison, had an alarming and painful growth on his leg and was told he might have bone cancer and would have to have his leg amputated.  It took far too long for anyone to give it serious attention.  He finally was transferred to Sussex I State Prison, closer to Richmond, so he could be treated at the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) at Virginia Commonwealth University, but he was being held there in solitary confinement under very draconian conditions.  Ultimately, doctors at MCV reviewed his diagnostic tests and determined that his tumor was not malignant.  He returned to Red Onion Prison.  Unfortunately, however,  VADOC is unwilling to provide treatment other than monitoring the tumor to make sure it remains stable. He is due to have another MRI in October, and if the tumor is worse, it would likely be treated by inserting a needle in the infected area and flushing it with a saline solution.  Randall has asked for this to be done, but the prison medical staff insists on simply monitoring the tumor for any changes and giving him pain medication as needed.

Michael Kelley, who, like Randall Via, spent years in solitary confinement at Red Onion, also had been transferred to Sussex I in order to receive treatment at MCV for a chronic medical condition.  Because his treatment required trying different medications and waiting to observe their effects, Michael had to spend more than a year at Sussex I, where he was kept in solitary confinement under extreme conditions of deprivation.  Pressure from IAHR, including many of you, got Sussex I to agree to release him from solitary, but that decision was later blocked by VADOC.  Because of the difficulty of enduring these conditions, Michael refused an upcoming medical appointment and went back to Red Onion in hopes of getting his security level lowered eventually so that he could return to Sussex I without having to be kept in isolation.  He is making progress towards this goal.

Meeting with Brian Moran, Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security

By Rabbi Chuck Feinberg


On July 22, 2019, advocates including Rabbi Feinberg, David Smith (IAHR board member), Rhonda Thissen (NAMI-VA), John Horesji (S.A.L.T.) and Delegate Patrick Hope met with Secretary Brian Moran and six administrators from the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC).  The meeting lasted two hours.  The purpose of the meeting was to present concerns about the use of restrictive housing (solitary confinement) in Virginia State Prisons.  Here are some important takeaways from the meeting:

  • The first report on the use of restrictive housing will be released in October of this year. The data will be from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.
  • The data will be in the aggregate without any breakdown by individual prisons. VADOC staff insisted it would be too difficult to produce data by individual prisons.  VADOC staff said it was both issue of needing extra personnel as well as reconfiguring the software.  Advocates remained confused as to why it would be so difficult to produce such data.
  • Mental health is a great concern. 31% of all incarcerated people in state prisons have some kind of mental illness.  Eleven years ago, it was 11%.   Recidivism is greater for people with mental illness.
  • There is a 14% vacancy rate for mental health workers in the Virginia state prison system. The ratio of mental health workers to incarcerated people is 1 to 250.
  • There is a large gap between VADOC and advocates on how restrictive housing is deployed. Advocates receive many reports of incarcerated people not being given a reason for being placed in restrictive housing, lack of medical care, and people placed in restrictive housing for months and years.  VADOC officials insist these reports are exaggerated or wrong.
  • Advocates pushed hard on incarcerated people being given the opportunity to waive their right to confidentiality so that advocates can compare VADOC’s report with the prisoner’s report. There was no definite response from Secretary Moran and staff. This might be an area for legislation. 
  • IAHR agreed by the end of the summer to submit a proposal to increase the engagement between VADOC officials and advocates.   

The meeting was frustrating but still useful.  There seemed to be a willingness on the part of the Secretary to engage with advocates three or four times a year. Delegate Hope was very optimistic that if the Virginia legislature becomes under the control of the Democrats after the 2019 election, legislation to limit the use of solitary has a very good chance of being passed. 

Plans for New Halfway House Still Unsettled

Washington Post: ‘It’s going to be a crisis’: D.C. may be left without a halfway house for men returning from federal prison

Core DC won a contract to open a halfway house that would accommodate 300 former prisoners at 3400 New York Ave. NE but later lost its lease. (Justin Wm. Moyer/The Washington Post)

By Peter Jamison and Justin Wm. Moyer

August 6 at 6:18 PM

Plans for a new halfway house in Northeast Washington are unsettled less than 90 days before the city’s current facility is scheduled to close, alarming activists who say the District risks being left without reentry services for men returning from prison.

Hope Village, the longtime manager of the city’s only halfway house for men exiting the federal prison system, is on track to cease operating Oct. 31. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons last year selected the nonprofit Core DC to replace Hope Village, which has been dogged by complaints that it hasn’t provided adequate security or services.

Core was supposed to take over reentry services under a five-year, $60 million contract to operate a facility for 300 men at 3400 New York Ave. NE. Its plans have come close to collapsing, faced with opposition from neighborhood activists and D.C. Council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), whose ward would host the new reentry center.

McDuffie — who repeatedly wrote letters to federal officials last fall opposing the new halfway house — recently reversed course and dropped objections to Core’s proposal. But prominent District developer Douglas Jemal backed out of a tentative agreement to lease the property in December, creating uncertainty about its fate.

Hope Village also has challenged the contract award. The federal Government Accountability Office recommended in February that the Prisons Bureau revisit its decision to award the contract, but it’s unclear how long that process will take.

Advocates say ex-offenders could be sent to halfway houses outside the District if Hope Village closes without a replacement.

 “It’s going to be a crisis because we’re on the verge of losing the male residential reentry services in D.C. because of political shenanigans and because of Doug Jemal,” said the Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, a minister in Northeast Washington.

Ron Moten, a longtime ­anti-violence activist in Southeast Washington, said he and others were shocked by Jemal’s decision to renege on the letter of intent with Core, in part because the developer has supported expanding opportunities for ex-offenders.

“This is going to be catastrophic for our community and society,” Moten said. “Because if you have people come home and they have to go to Delaware and Baltimore, they’re almost certainly going to reoffend, and they’re going to go back to prison.”

A force behind the anti-gentrification “Don’t Mute DC” movement, Moten organized a rally Thursday in support of the proposed Core halfway house featuring several go-go bands.

In a phone interview, Jemal refused to discuss the situation at 3400 New York Ave. or say whether he was reconsidering a lease for Core. He has not stated publicly why he abandoned the agreement with Core.

A separate halfway house for about 40 women, at the eastern end of the H Street Corridor in Northeast Washington, won’t be affected by decisions involving Core and Hope Village.

McDuffie — a former Justice Department civil rights attorney who has emphasized criminal justice reform during seven years on the council — wrote a letter July 26 withdrawing his objection to the proposed halfway house.

He said in an interview that Core had assuaged his concerns about its outreach to local officials and residents. He said he toured a Core facility in New York, and the group had also held meetings with Ward 5 residents.

“They’ve engaged extensively with residents throughout the District of Columbia and in Ward 5,” McDuffie said. “They’ve answered some of the hard questions about their company, their experience, some of the services they’ve previously provided.”

He said his most recent letter was not an endorsement of Core but was intended to alert federal officials that he no longer opposed the nonprofit’s contract.

McDuffie said he did not know whether Jemal was reconsidering a lease for Core at the New York Avenue location. He said he had not asked Jemal to back out of a letter of intent to lease to Core or had other discussions with Jemal before the developer decided not to move ahead with the deal.

McDuffie said Jemal did not respond to an email he sent last month notifying him that he no longer opposed the Core contract.

Last week, council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large) sent his own letter to Bureau of Prisons acting director Hugh Hurwitz, saying the loss of a halfway house for men in the District would “severely harm our residents.” He added that “we cannot lose the opportunity to have the deep supports that the District’s returning citizens have been asking for and needing for so many years.”

District Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue said in a statement to The Washington Post that the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) supports the continued presence of a halfway house in the District. Donahue stopped short of expressing support for the Core contract.

 “For months, we have urged the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to work transparently and collaboratively with District residents and returning citizens advocates in identifying suitable locations for a new halfway house,” Donahue said. “The District’s public safety is better served if its returning citizens can utilize a halfway house located within the city.”

A Bureau of Prisons official declined to comment on the future of the contract or whether Hope Village — which already is operating on a six-month contract extension — would receive another extension if a new halfway house is not ready by the end of October.

Core chief executive Jack Brown said in a statement that the firm was “grateful to the residents of the District for the opportunity to share our vision for helping the formerly incarcerated become productive members of their communities. Our ongoing conversations with residents and community leaders have been encouraging.”

Hope Village representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

Hope Village has won more than $125 million in federal contracts since 2006 but has long been criticized by inmates and advocates who say it offers substandard care.

In 2016, the Council for Court Excellence, a nonprofit that advocates for improvements to the city’s criminal justice system, faulted the facility for security problems and failing to help residents 

Hope Village has also been criticized for its frequent resident escapes. Last week, D.C. prosecutors announced that a convicted drug dealer who had walked away from Hope Village in December was sentenced to 15 months in prison — one of dozens of people who received felony convictions after failing to report to or escaping from the facility since 2017.

Arguments for a local halfway house and Hope Village’s checkered history did not sway the opinions of several Ward 5 residents opposed to having former inmates housed steps from the National Arboretum.

In December, a dozen of them sued the District, saying zoning regulations that could allow a halfway house on New York Avenue were “defective.” One of McDuffie’s letters challenging Core was included as an exhibit.

Though the suit was later withdrawn, Pierre Hines, one of the plaintiffs, said he was surprised to learn of McDuffie’s reversal, adding that it could affect the federal selection process and give Core an advantage.

“The verdict is still out on the key issue: whether Core or any other company can identify a suitable facility to house hundreds of men and properly staff it to deal with security issues that will undoubtedly arise,” he said. “The devil is in the details, and I look forwarding to seeing them.”  

Brennan Center for Justice: Between 2007 and 2017, 34 States Reduced Crime and Incarceration in Tandem

Cameron KimbleAmes Grawert

August 6, 2019

Some still argue that increasing imprisonment is necessary to reduce crime. Data show otherwise.


It’s now been several decades since states around the country began experimenting with criminal justice reform — specifically, by reducing the number of people behind prison bars. Now we can start to take stock of the results.

They’re encouraging — but with the prison population still sky-high, there’s a lot more to do.

Between 2007 and 2017, 34 states reduced both imprisonment and crime rates simultaneously, showing clearly that reducing mass incarceration does not come at the cost of public safety (for sources and definitions for crime data, see our latest crime report). The total number of sentenced individuals held in state prisons across the U.S. also decreased by 6 percent over the same decade. And these drops played out across the country.

Broad regional gains in safety and fairness

While it’s tempting to focus on the Southern states — which were some of the most notable early adopters of reform — reductions in the last decade occurred across the board. The Northeast saw the largest average decline in imprisonment rate (24 percent), with only Pennsylvania recording an increase (3 percent). Crime rates also dropped fastest in the Northeast region, falling by just over 30 percent on average.

By contrast, the Midwest saw imprisonment rates drop by only 1 percent on average, and that modest reduction was driven by Michigan (20 percent), where recent criminal justice reforms are focused on reducing recidivism. With returns to prison down 41 percent since 2006, the state is home to one of the most comprehensive statewide reentry initiatives in the country.

Notably, Massachusetts recorded the steepest decline in crime rate in the country in this period (about 40 percent) while reducing the number of people convicted of non-violent drug crimes in prison by 45 percent from 2008, cutting its overall imprisonment rate roughly in half. In fact, across the country, where the crime rate did fall, it fell faster, however slightly, in states with increased imprisonment rates.

It’s tough to say why some states successfully reduced their prison population while others failed. One possible commonality relates to socioeconomic well-being. Over half of the states where imprisonment rates grew had poverty rates above the national average as well. Those states were also some of the hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. West Virginia typifies this experience: crime rates dropped, but incarceration rose amidst the state’s struggles with opioid abuse and poverty.

Opioid addiction may also explain a relative lack of progress in Rust Belt states. In 2017, for example, Ohio and Pennsylvania experienced overdose death rates of 46 and 44 per 100,000, respectively. Both saw prison rates remain stagnant, as did nearby Kentucky, another state with high overdose deaths. The trend is not clear, though, as other states struggling with addiction, such as Alaska, were able to successfully cut their prison population.

Instead, the problem in the Rust Belt may be a combination of rising opioid addiction and a mistakenly, overly punitive response. Kentucky, for example, recently increased penalties for heroin trafficking and doubled penalties for crimes involving fentanyl.

Louisiana is also an interesting case. The state recently tried to transcend its grim distinction as the nation’s leading per-capita incarcerator. Two years ago, Gov. John Edwards signed into law a sweeping package of criminal justice reform bills with the goal of reducing prison populations by 10 percent over 10 years. Despite that, Louisiana remains the nation’s leading incarcerator per capita. And despite declines in its prison population, the state’s crime rate also remains high.

Click here to read the rest of the article.