Over the last year, IAHR’s has continued to build its visibility and impact through an extensive set of activities and initiatives. Our professional staff, dedicated volunteers and generous contributors have made all of this possible – and laid the foundation for even greater impact in the coming years. In this report, we review our accomplishments in 2020 and our plans for expanded efforts in 2021.
Legislation is a critical part of our effort.
The 2020 Maryland and Virginia legislative sessions were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nonetheless IAHR was able to achieve some of its legislative goals and laid the groundwork for progress in 2021.
- In partnership with the ACLU-VA, we were able to get a bill (HB1284) passed by the 2020 General Assembly that established a working group that will establish criteria for the deployment of solitary confinement in regional jails.
- In 2021, we believe the Maryland General Assembly will enact a bill to provide pre-release transitional services to people in solitary. This bill was expected to pass this year if the 2020 session had not been truncated.
- In Virginia in 2021, we will be advocating a bill in the Virginia legislature to limit solitary to 15 consecutive days and will also initiate a campaign to end the vicious use of attack dogs in Virginia prisons either through litigation and/or legislation.
- IAHR will also be a partner in a campaign in 2021 to transfer the Parole authority from the federal government back to the District government
- Our past work in Maryland (2016) and Virginia (2019) continues to bear fruit. In both states, the corrections department now must release annual reports on solitary confinement that provide powerful evidence for our activity and that of our allies.
Legal Action provides another route to change pernicious policies and address unacceptable practices.
- In 2020, we were part of a coalition of over 40 advocates and service providers in Virginia working to prevent the spread of covid-19 in VA prisons and to urge VADOC to release those with underlying medical conditions, those over the age of 60, and those within a year of release.
- We also initiated a new program in 2021 with three different law firms who provided pro bono representation to three incarcerated people in Virginia and Maryland. We plan to expand this effort substantially in 2021.
Our on-going efforts to provide Individual Support to those suffering from solitary confinement are another focus for IAHR.
- We spearheaded interventions to persuade wardens in five prisons to transfer incarcerated people in Virginia out of solitary including persons who were ill, disabled and elderly.
- Our Virginia Advocacy Program reaches out to over 85 incarcerated people in the two Virginia maximum security prisons. Even if they are not in solitary confinement, these persons are isolated from friends and family, often for years on end.
- Our DC-focused Pen Pal Program also continues to grow. This program helps to relieve the isolation of prisoners from DC incarcerated hundreds or thousands of miles from home in the federal penal system. Over 200 volunteers offer the same number of incarcerated persons a friendly voice from back home through their on-going personal correspondence.
- IAHR regularly receives personal appeals for help from those held in solitary confinement. Just an inquiry from us to prison administration can produce better conditions for the prisoner. IAHR has intervened for several men to have them transferred out of solitary confinement.
Education/Public Awareness of our issues is the foundation for all our progress. Our best ally is a compassionate electorate that is well informed on the conditions of incarceration.
- In 2020, IAHR successfully organized a new series of seven online webinars interviewing returning citizens, a retired warden, a leading advocate, and several authors of books on criminal justice under the theme of "Reimagining Criminal Justice in the U.S." We will continue to produce stimulating webinars in 2021.
- We also held virtually the 2nd Annual Human Rights at the Prison Door event during which we honored four human rights heroes and heard a keynote by Amy Fettig, executive director of the Sentencing Project.
- We have increased IAHR’s social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Our website, https://www.interfaithactionhr.org/, and blog have become an increasingly rich source for all those who care about justice for our incarcerated brothers and sisters.
- In 2020, IAHR successfully organized a new series of seven online webinars interviewing returning citizens, retired warden, a leading advocate, and several authors