IAHR's January 2024 Newsletter
On behalf of the IAHR Board, we wish you and your loved ones a Happy New Year! This month you can read about the extraordinary work of Gay Gardner and Linda Gustitus who have been corresponding for many years with incarcerated people in Virginia State Prisons. They have documented a host of alleged human rights abuses in state prisons. It is an eye-popping report.
Find out about IAHR's Legislative Advocacy Bootcamp as well as our legislation for the upcoming sessions in Maryland and Virginia. Register for the Maryland Criminal Justice Forum sponsored by the Homewood Friends Meeting.
You also have an opportunity to meet Lionel Andre, our new board chair, along with the rest of the IAHR Board.
Finally, if you have not done so already, please make a donation to support our efforts to end the abuse of prolonged isolation otherwise known as solitary confinement.
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.
“You can’t walk away after reading this report,” Rabbi Charles Feinberg, Interim Director of IAHR said, “without concluding that the Virginia Department of Corrections desperately needs robust, independent oversight. June budget legislation took a valuable step in establishing the Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman in the Office of the State Inspector General. That office now needs permanent status, with significant funding and meaningful authority, which we urge the General Assembly and Governor Youngkin to enact this year.”
Wallens Ridge State Prison, Pound, VA
The report, based on the authors’ years of correspondence with hundreds of people held in Virginia prisons and efforts to resolve their complaints, reveals that many of them:
-- endure medical conditions requiring costs to the state and resulting in suffering that could be avoided with prompt and effective medical attention;
-- feel unsafe in Virginia prisons because of the presence of gangs, drugs, and weapons; and/or
-- are held in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, housed in units subject to extreme temperatures and/or lacking access to a nutritionally adequate diet; and that
-- everyone housed in a Virginia prison is at the mercy of prison officials who have the power by accusation to reduce their access to programming, increase their security level, remove them from the general prison population, and reduce their ability to earn credits that can take time off their sentence.”
Click here to read the rest of the Executive Summary.
Click here to read the full report.
For more Information, contact Gay Gardner at 703-627-6482 and Linda Gustitus at 202-557-8867.
Legislative Advocacy Bootcamp
Help us end solitary. Learn to be an effective advocate! Join us in Norfolk.
IAHR Prepares for Upcoming MD and VA Legislative Sessions
IAHR along with its coalition partners is readying solitary legislation to be introduced in the upcoming legislative sessions in Maryland and Virginia.
Overview of a solitary cell
Here is a list of six important provisions in the legislation that will limit solitary in Maryland and Virginia state prisons:
- Defining Restrictive Housing: The bill provides a clear definition of restrictive housing as any form of physical separation where an incarcerated individual is confined in a room or cell for over seventeen hours within a twenty-four-hour period.
- Residential Rehabilitation Units: It establishes separate housing units designed for therapy, treatment, and rehabilitative programming as alternatives to restrictive housing. These units aim to avoid physical isolation, offering a minimum of seven hours daily for group programming, activities, or recreation.
- De-escalation Practices: The bill emphasizes implementing established de-escalation practices to diminish conflict intensity or potential danger within correctional facilities.
- Protective Custody for Vulnerable Individuals: It outlines the protection of vulnerable individuals, including those under 26 or over 55 years old, individuals with disabilities, diagnosed mental health conditions, serious medical conditions unsuitable for isolated confinement, and pregnant or postpartum individuals.
- Limitations and Review Procedures: The bill sets limits on the duration of restrictive housing for certain offenses and mandates a thorough review process, including a secondary review for individuals classified as vulnerable to prevent their placement or immediate removal from restrictive housing.
- Training Requirements: It stipulates mandatory training hours for personnel supervising incarcerated individuals in restrictive housing units, focusing on trauma-induced care, and annual training updates. Additionally, it requires specific training for hearing officers regarding trauma-informed care, the effects of restrictive housing, due process rights of incarcerated individuals, and restorative justice remedies before presiding over related hearings.
In Virginia, Delegate Joshua Cole is the lead patron of the solitary legislation. In Maryland, coalition members are working hard to identify a delegate and senator who will sponsor the bill. Once the bills are finalized and assigned a bill number, we will be sending you that information along with a link to the bill.
If you would like to get involved, please reach out to Natasha White, IAHR's Director of Community Engagement.
Maryland Justice Reform Forum
Sunday, January 16 @ 3 pm
Ombudsman, Solitary Confinement, and other bills
Homewood Friends Meeting
3107 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
In-person & via Zoom
Register (for in-person participation or via Zoom)
Click here for more information
Lionel André is a highly experienced litigator who has spent over thirty-five years addressing government investigation and white-collar issues. He brings unique and significant work experience of over thirteen years of SEC investigation and litigation experience and over sixteen years of DOJ criminal trial experience.
Lionel served as Assistant United States Attorney in the Fraud and Public Corruption Section in the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. At the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he served as Senior Litigation Counsel and Health Care Fraud Coordinator in the Fraud and Public Corruption Section. Prior to that, Lionel spent time at the United States Securities & Exchange Commission as Assistant Chief Litigation Counsel.
Currently, Lionel defends clients in securities enforcement matters, securities litigation, and white-collar criminal cases. He also conducts internal investigations, participates in Monitorships, and assists companies with updating their compliance programs. Lionel, who immigrated from Haiti at the age of five, is extremely passionate about protecting human rights in the United States and abroad. He serves on the Board of Directors of three non-profit organizations.