Two men allegedly injured by prison security dogs — one of whom was partially disabled — have filed civil rights suits accusing the Virginia Department of Corrections of the systemic, brutal use of canines on prisoners.
Testimony before DC Council Judiciary & Public Safety Committee
April 8, 2021
Rabbi Charles Feinberg
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to testify this morning regarding B24-0063, “Second Chance Amendment Act of 2021,” and B24-0110, “Criminal Record Expungement Amendment Act of 2021.”
My name is Rabbi Charles Feinberg. I am the executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights which 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.
I commend the Council for taking up legislation that will expand the number and kinds of records that can be sealed. I support amending Chapter 8 of Title 16 to increase the number of eligible convictions that may be sealed, to reduce the number of years a resident must remain off papered to seal an eligible conviction, to simplify and shorten the process that a resident must undertake to seal a charge that does not end in a conviction.
I also support expanding the definition of an eligible felony and to make all misdemeanors eligible for sealing. Felonies are expanded to (A) Failure to appear (§ 23-1327); 31 “(B) First or second degree theft (§ 22-3211); and 32 “(C) Felony possession (§ 48-904.01(a)
However, I am disappointed that this legislation does not go far enough. This legislation does not address granting eligibility for expunging serious felonies. Nor does it include simplified waiting period and simplified burdens of proof. Furthermore, the legislation should mandate clearer rules on how sealed records may be accessed and used. It should also give clearer guidance to our courts to decide motions as well as limiting the time for a court to decide a motion to seal. Finally, the legislation should make the instructions on how to file simple and easy to read. People should be able file without hiring an attorney.
The basic question that we all have to address is how many times and how long do we punish someone who was convicted of a crime? Once convicted of a felony, a DC resident becomes incarcerated in the Bureau of Prisons. He or she spends a number of years there. While there they do not receive the educational, psychological, and medical services they need to help them make different decisions for themselves. Many have served lengthy sentences and they return to a city that has dramatically changed since they lived here. Many are not prepared to re-enter. Many do not have homes to return to.
Then they return to the District and the punishment does not end. Do we provide housing for those returning from prison? No, we really don’t. Do the landlords want them? No, they don’t. Here is another barrier that is so difficult to overcome: finding a decent and affordable place to live in. Many then have to jump from one couch in one house to another and too often end up living on the street.Read more
April 1, 2021
On April 1, 2021, D.C. Council Member Vincent Gray circulated the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2021,” to the D.C. Council, with accompanying emergency and temporary legislation that would allow the District to use its eminent domain powers to seize the Ward 7 property where a new halfway house is slated to open in May.
Opponents to the planned halfway house first claimed that it should not open there because it would hurt the economic development of the Benning Road corridor. Then they claimed that the old meat-packing building on the site was historic and must be preserved. After that, they claimed that a 300-bed facility was too big. Now, they’re proposing that the property should be used as a park, citing such an urgent need as to require a governmental taking of private property. Unfortunately, these claims all obscure the truth of the opposition – some residents do not want a halfway house and its residents in their neighborhood.
Returning citizens, their loved ones, and local organizations have long advocated for a safe, supportive environment to facilitate residents’ reentry into our community. The journey to a halfway house that supports the success of returning citizens has been a long, and complicated saga.
- January 2016: The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued its solicitation for proposals for a new halfway house for men in D.C.
- November 2018: The BOP initially awarded the 5-year, $60+ million contract to CORE DC.
- April 2020: Hope Village closes with less than two-weeks notice, leaving D.C. without a halfway house for men.
- June 2020: After a prolonged contract battle, and several blocked sites, CORE DC receives final contract approval from the BOP to open a new 300-bed halfway house at property they purchased at 3701 Benning Rd. NE. The facility was scheduled to open October 1, 2020.
- September 2020: ANC7F files a historic preservation claim to prevent CORE DC from demolishing the existing building on the Benning Rd. property.
- December 2020: The Historic Preservation Review Board votes 7-1 to deny the historic preservation claim, clearing the way for CORE DC to file its raze permits.
- December 2020: CORE DC files raze permits and building permits with DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
- February 2021: Councilmember Gray files resolution to cancel a contract extension between DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) and CORE DC for CORE DC to continue running a family homeless shelter in Ward 7.
- April 2021: Councilmember Gray files emergency and temporary bills and an emergency resolution to use eminent domain to seize CORE DC’s property and instead use it to build a park.
Since Hope Village abruptly closed its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic’s first wave, D.C. has gone 336 days without a halfway house for men. With no halfway house within city limits, D.C. residents – more than 90% of whom are Black – face enormous additional barriers to their successful reentry. Some people are sent by BOP to a halfway house in another state (like Baltimore, MD, Wilmington, DE, or Norfolk, VA); others are sent from prison straight back to the streets of the District, often without a plan for housing, a job, or any connection to reentry services. Of course, the lack of safe housing, employment, and supportive services for returning citizens has been exacerbated by the pandemic, just as it has for all District residents.
In May 2020, the DC Reentry Action Network asked the ReOpen DC Task Force to “support the new halfway house contractor in opening the doors of the new facility as quickly as possible.” In February 2021, the District Task Force on Jails & Justice also recommended the District prioritize “quick and safe approval of the raze application and all other permits required for CORE DC to open its new halfway house facility at 3701 Benning Rd. NE.” The BOP itself stated in an email on April 1, 2021 that, “continued efforts to delay, or not allow this facility to operate as intended, will result in the inability of the BOP to provide these critical services to offenders releasing to this area.”
We demand that the Mayor and D.C. Council immediately and permanently put an end to these delay tactics and take all steps needed to safely and quickly approve all permits needed for CORE DC to open a new halfway house for men at 3701 Benning Rd. NE. No more contract disputes, no more attempts at eminent domain, no emergency changes to zoning laws or municipal regulations, no more veiled attempts keeping our returning citizens from coming home.
The DC Council must VOTE NO on Tuesday on the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Declaration Resolution of 2021,” the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Emergency Act of 2021,” and the “Downtown Ward 7 Urban Park Eminent Domain Authority Temporary Act of 2021.” All District leaders must send a clear message that further delays will not be tolerated – we must open a new halfway house for men now.
March 25, 20201
IAHR welcomes the news that the State of Virginia has abolished the death penalty. Virginia is the first southern state to do so. The death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment because it discriminates against the poor and people of color. It is cruel and unusual punishment because mistakes and prosecutorial misconduct often mar death penalty decisions. The next step is to ban life sentences without the possibility of parole. It is time for all of us to accept that people can change. https://www.governor.virginia.gov/.../headline-894006-en...
March 5, 2021
Today, I sent the letter below to DC Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds who are trying to undermine a shelter for the homeless in Ward 7 and a new halfway house for returning citizens from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. CORE DC has contracted both with the District and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to run a homeless shelter in Ward 7 and a halfway house for returning citizens. The Shelter for the Homeless is up and running and the people it serves seem satisfied with the CORE DC's management. Separately, CORE DC has contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to manage a halfway house for returning citizens in Ward 7. The halfway house has yet to be built and Councilman Gray is trying his best to prevent it from being built. To that end he persuaded Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds to sign a resolution withholding permission from the contractor to build the halfway house. This is another example of our leaders saying they want to support the poor and those who are returning prison but then do the opposite. Here is the letter I sent to the five Council Members.
Dear Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds:
As the Director of an organization which believes that we all have a responsibility to offer support and guidance to those who have fallen on difficult times, I am deeply troubled to hear that you are supporting an effort among your colleagues on the city council that could result in a disruption to emergency shelter and vital social services for dozens of families experiencing homelessness at a time of unprecedented uncertainty and economic hardship. I am referring to the resolution you have signed along with five other Council Members that aims to terminate the current service provider’s contract to run the short-term housing program at The Horizon in Ward 7.
As you may know, The Horizon is part of Mayor Bowser’s bold plan to establish dignified, service-enriched programs across all eight wards – a centerpiece of her agenda. At The Horizon’s opening in October 2018, Mayor Bowser said, “With these new short-term family housing programs, we are providing a chance for our families to rebuild their circumstance as they continue to contribute to our greater DC community.”
By all accounts, the existing provider operating The Horizon, CORE DC, has been an ideal partner to the community in making that vision a reality. In fact, it is our understanding that CORE DC was selected to lead a similar short-term housing program in the District, which opened in July of 2020, as well as another DHS program for returning citizens.
At The Horizon, CORE DC provides 35 families experiencing homelessness with safe emergency shelter, case management, and community-based support programs to help them achieve stable and permanent housing. The site also includes computer labs for the residents, outdoor playground and recreational space, age-appropriate indoor recreation space, a homework and a study lounge for residents. Residents of The Horizon are predominantly Black and Brown, and CORE DC’s staff reflects the populations it serves, which is a critical component of building trust.
The effort to dismantle this program is troubling enough on its own. But it is even worse in light of the fact that CORE DC is planning to open
February 15, 2021
Note: This litigation is due to the correspondence that IAHR has conducted over the last 5 years with inmates in maximum security prisons in the State of Virginia. IAHR was able to bring these allegations of the use of attack dogs to our pro bono attorneys who have filed law suits on behalf of two of the victims who were attacked by dogs.
Curtis J. Garrett, 29, a former inmate, says he was attacked by dogs in 2018 at the Sussex II State Prison, leading to permanent physical injuries and a mental breakdown requiring psychiatric hospitalization. Corey E. Johnson, 51, an inmate at Red Onion State Prison, was allegedly mauled by a dog there last May.
Both inmates contend they were obeying orders and not resisting corrections officers when attacked by the dogs, according to the suits filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond and Roanoke.
"Although the use of canines in a force capacity is widely recognized as an extreme and brutal measure, the official policies, practices, and customs of the Virginia Department of Corrections ... continue to allow the use of unmuzzled canines to terrify and attack prisoners," the suits allege.
The plaintiffs allege violations of Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment and name various Department of Corrections employees and officials as defendants.
They are seeking unspecified damages and a court-ordered end to prison policies that are said to "permit, condone, and ratify canine attacks on prisoners."
Monday, February 8, 2021
The Virginia General Assembly is now considering two bills that would restore voting rights to all returning citizens. You may remember that Gov McAuliffe by executive order restored voting rights to 173,000 returning citizens who had been convicted of a felony. The Virginia Supreme Court struck down Gov. McAuliffe's executive order declaring it was unconstitutional. Gov. McAuliffe then restored voting rights individually to over 200,000 returning citizens. Clearly, the right to vote should not be dependent on the political orientation of the Governor. Everyone who has served his or her sentence should be free to vote without exception. Please support the General Assembly's work on restoring voting rights. Read more about the two bills being considered in yesterday's Richmond's Post-Dispatch.
Former Norfolk inmate spent 16 months in solitary confinement. A new Senate bill aims to prohibit it.
February 4, 2021
Please read a very good article about IAHR Board Member David Smith and chair of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary in the Virginian-Pilot. The article highlights David's time in solitary while he was incarcerated. The article describes SB1301, sponsored by Senator Joseph Morrissey and how the bill will end prolonged isolation in Virginia State Prisons.
Virginia Residents: Write your Senator asking him/her to support SB1301 which was a creation of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary. The Coalition Partners include IAHR, ACLU-VA, S.A.L.T. (Social Action Linking Together), and Virginia-CURE. If you don't know offhand your Senator or Delegate click here. Just enter your mailing address and the names of your Senator and Delegate will come up.
February 1, 2021
Virginia Friends: We need your help! SB 1301 passed its first hurtle. It was voted out of the Virginia Senate’s Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee. SB 1301’s next step is to pass out of the Virginia Senate’s Finance & Appropriations Committee. Please support our legislation in Virginia by contacting Our bill is scheduled to have a committee hearing on Tuesday or Wednesday, February 2 or 3. It is important that all the letters are sent in by this Tuesday, February 2.
Maryland Friends: Thank you for sending your letters in support of HB 131 which mandates the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide transitional services to people in restrictive housing (solitary) six months prior to release. HB 131 had a hearing at the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee Tuesday, January 26. The bill will be voted on by the full House of Delegates sometime within the next ten days. We are asking you to send a letter of support to your own delegate. See below for details.
See below for the details on the Virginia and the Maryland bills, the link to the bills, and what we need you to do. We have an opportunity to make a difference!
Action Item: Support Virginia Bill SB 1301
The Virginia Coalition on Solitary is advocating for SB 1301 whose patron is Senator Joseph Morrissey (D., District 16).
Some of the major provisions of SB 1301 include the following:
- No prisoner can be placed in solitary confinement except for providing medical and mental health treatment.
- The bill mandates that a prisoner receive an initial medical/mental health evaluation within eight hours of placement in isolated confinement and comprehensive medical and mental health evaluation within 24 hours.
- A prisoner shall be placed in isolated confinement for up to 48 hours. A prisoner may remain in isolated confinement for another 48 hours only if he or she poses an ongoing threat of physical harm to another person, for a maximum time in solitary of 96 hours.
- Prisoners placed in isolated confinement for their own protection shall receive opportunities for activities, movement, and social interaction.
- Prisoners who are neither in isolated confinement nor in general population shall be offered a minimum of three hours of out-of-cell programmatic interventions or other congregate activities, such as classes, work assignments, or therapeutic treatment.
- No juvenile shall be placed in solitary confinement except for the purpose of providing medical or mental health treatment.
- No juvenile shall be placed in solitary confinement for longer than 24 hours.
- If a juvenile continues to pose an ongoing threat of physical harm to another person, the juvenile can be placed in solitary for another 24 hours or a maximum of 48 hours total.
- All juveniles who are neither in solitary confinement nor in general population shall be offered a minimum of four hours of out of cell programmatic interventions such as classes, work assignments, or therapeutic treatments.
SB 1301 would effectively end prolonged isolation in Virginia State Prisons for both adults and juveniles!
What We Need You to Do
- The bill will be discussed and voted on in the Virginia Senate’s Budget & Appropriation Committee on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. The chair is Janet Howell (D., District 32).
- Please send an email letter (sample following) to Senator Howell and to the following Senators who are committee members: Richard L. Saslaw, Thomas K. Norment, Jr., Emmett W. Hanger, Jr., L. Louise Lucas, Stephen D. Newman, Frank M. Ruff, Jill Holtzman Vogel, George L. Barker, John S. Edwards, R. Creigh Deeds, Mamie E. Locke, J. Chapman Petersen, David W. Marsden, Adam P. Ebbin, Jennifer L. McClellan well as to David Smith, IAHR Board Member and Chair of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary.
We will gather the letters and present them to all the members of the committee at the appropriate time.
Dear Senator _______________:
Please support SB 1301 that effectively ends prolonged isolation for both adults and juveniles in Virginia State Prisons. Prolonged Isolation for longer than 15 days was defined as an act of torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Moreover, numerous medical and psychological studies have determined that prolonged isolation (longer than 15 days) can damage the mental and physical health of a person. Correctional authorities can manage behavior without resorting to prolonged isolation.
Sincerely, Your Name
Action Item: Support Maryland Bill HB 131: Next Step
- Please write your Maryland House Delegate asking for his or her support for HB 131 which mandates the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide transitional services to those in restrictive housing (solitary confinement) six months prior to release. The bill directs the Department to provide a step down program in a multi-disciplinary approach so that no one is in restrictive housing at the time of release. Releasing people directly to the community from solitary is a threat to public safety!
- To identify your Delegate, click here. Enter your address in the upper left hand side of the page and your Legislator’s names will appear. Click on the name and the Legislators page will appear with their contact info.
Please support HB 131 which mandates the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide transitional services to anyone in restrictive housing six months prior to release.
HB 131 meets the standards of the American Correctional Association which is the professional organization of correctional officers and wardens.
Releasing to the community incarcerated men and women directly from restrictive housing is a threat to public safety.
Sincerely, Your Name
January 27, 2021
IAHR signed on to a letter being circulated by Amnesty International, The Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights, the ACLU, and other organizations asking the Biden Administration to put an end to executions by the Federal Government by commuting federal death sentences. Here is the letter I received:
I’m reaching out to ask for your organization to join a coalition letter already supported by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and LDF calling on the administration to commute federal death sentences and take further executive action to erode this racially biased, ineffective, error ridden, arbitrary, and irreversible punishment, that is the death penalty. The deadline to join this letter is Monday, February 1. Click here to add your org.
Over six months, the Trump administration executed 13 people, more than three times as many people than were executed by the federal government in the previous six decades. President Biden made clear that he will work to pass legislation to end the federal death penalty. While it will take legislation to abolish the federal death penalty, there are executive actions at the president’s disposal that could go along towards this end.
In addition to the calls for clemency for those under federal sentence of death, the attached letter calls on President Biden take further executive actions to, dismantle the federal death chamber, cease to seek any death sentences, withdraw authorization for pending death penalty cases, and issue a moratorium on federal executions. Please note this letter is for national organizations. To add your organization to this letter please complete this google form.
Feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any questions.
Kristina Roth | Union Strong
Criminal Justice Program
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003
Tel: 202-509-8182; Mobile: 202-945-2021
Preferred pronouns: She/Her
January 10, 2020
The events of January 5 and 6 have laid bare the bankruptcy and moral corruption of the national Republican Party. The Republican Party has no vision for our country and no real program to address the many serious issues that we face as a country: namely, the unchecked spread of Covid-19, the ongoing economic distress, the brutality and racism in our criminal justice system, the lack of access to medical care for millions of our residents, the ongoing threat of climate change, and the crumbling of our infrastructure. The Republican Party is divided not about how to address the challenges we all face but how to hold onto power for power's sake. One faction believes in raising all kinds obstacles to people registering to vote such as possessing a special id, banning mail-in voting or making it exceedingly difficult, making it difficult to register, limiting the number of polling places---the list goes on and on.
The other faction really does not believe in democracy or politics by questioning the integrity of elections, and by believing the opposition party is illegitimate. Too many critics of the Democratic Party and of Democrats believe that the Democratic Party is not legitimate. Too often they paint the Democratic Party and Democrats with a broad brush using such terms as "socialist", "communist", and the "far Left." Therefore, according to them a Democratic victory at the polls should not be possible or justified.
All this has been laid bare by the election in Georgia of Rev Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and the attack on the Capitol the following day. The election of the two Senators from Georgia and the election of Joe Biden to the Presidency has revealed that the amount of fraud or mistakes in our national election is miniscule. All the Presidential recounts in Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona revealed a remarkably mistake and fraud free election. Electronic ballots were matched to paper ballots over and over again. Challenges to signatures came up mostly empty. Whatever mistakes that were revealed did not in any way change the final result of the presidential election.
The elections did reveal that when voters were given multiple ways to cast their ballot--early voting, mail-in voting, numerous and accessible polling places--the public responded in record numbers. We had one of the greatest turnouts in an election in recent American history. Access was expanded without compromising the integrity of the election.