March Newsletter 2019
This month’s newsletter includes a new feature, a letter from prison which we plan to make a regular feature. We also have reports on our successful effort to get a “reporting bill” passed in Virginia, an up to date report on our legislative efforts in Maryland, a report on the U.S. Parole Commission and the District of Columbia, and an invitation for pen pals to contribute material to be posted on the website.
Virginia Legislature Passes a “Reporting Bill” on Restrictive Housing (Solitary Confinement)
Maryland House of Delegates’ Judiciary Committee Considers Solitary Bills
Restoring Control of Parole to D.C.
Letter from Prison
Invitation to Pen Pals
The “Reporting” on Restrictive Housing legislation IAHR sought in Virginia (HB 1642/SB1777) was passed by the Virginia General Assembly, albeit in a weaker form than initially proposed. The bill requires the Department of Corrections to publish certain data concerning its use of solitary confinement. Click here to read the text of a letter recently sent to Gov. Ralph Northam on behalf of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement urging him to sign the bill into law but also pointing out flaws in the bill. Click here to read a newspaper article on HB 1642/SB1777.
In Virginia, the Governor is allowed to make changes to bills and send them back to the legislature for action in a "veto session" that begins this year on April 3. The Coalition's letter asks Gov. Northam to propose changes that would make the bill stronger from our perspective. With or without our proposed changes, enactment of this legislation is an important victory on which we can build.
Thanks to those of you in Virginia who asked your legislators to support this bill. IAHR is appreciative of all the work and support of our coalition partners which include: American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU-VA), Amnesty International of Northern Virginia, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) – VA, Criminal Injustice Reform Network of Virginia, First Alliance Consulting LLC, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, NAACP of Fairfax County, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – VA, National Association of Social Workers – VA, Resource, Information, Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD), Social Action Linking Together (SALT), Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement, Virginia Prison Justice Network, Virginia Prisons Accountability Committee, Virginia Social Action Task Force of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
On March 12, IAHR and its partners made a strong case to the Maryland House Judiciary Committee at a public hearing to pass three restrictive housing (solitary confinement) bills. HB1002, if passed, would prohibit the direct release to the community of incarcerated people in solitary. HB1029 would limit the number of consecutive days seriously mentally ill people would spend in restrictive housing to 15. HB745 would give pregnant incarcerated women a choice whether they wanted to be in medical isolation prior to their delivery. The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services attached a fiscal cost to HB1002 which came to 2.7 million dollars. IAHR and our coalition partners have argued that there is no real basis to this figure. Needless to say, the fiscal note for HB1002 has undermined support for the bill in the Judiciary Committee.
As of March 19, HB 1029 has been withdrawn. HB745 is still being considered. HB 1002 has now been amended and we need your help getting the Judiciary and Judicial Proceedings Chairs to bring it to a vote.
As amended, HB 1002 now reads:
“The Commissioner of Corrections may not prohibit an inmate placed in restrictive housing access to a transitional coordinator or case manager within 180 days before the direct release of the inmate from a correctional facility to the community”
This amendment resolves the fiscal concerns of the committees and is good public policy.
The Attorney General supports this bill as do numerous agencies, organizations, advocates and professionals.
WHAT CAN YOU DO
Call the offices of the committee chairs and co-chairs and ask them to bring HB 1002 as amended to a vote. If you cannot speak directly to the Delegate or Senator, please leave a message on their voice mail or with a staffer.
House Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger at 410.841.3488
House Judiciary Vice Chair Vanessa Atterbeary 410.841.3471 (co-sponsor)
Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair – Bobby ZIrkin 410.841.3131
Senate Judicial Proceedings Vice Chair – Will Smith 410.841.3634 (co-sponsor)
With your help, we can do this! Thank you in advance.
Twenty-two years ago, Congress passed the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 (the "D.C. Revitalization Act"). Through this legislation, the federal government took over most of the District of Columbia’s criminal justice responsibilities. Every District resident who is convicted of a felony serves his or her sentence in a federal prison. The President appoints the District’s judges and prosecutors. IAHR believes it is time for the District government to reconsider whether the near-complete federalization of the system of criminal law enforcement in D.C. is still financially necessary, and to identify logical next steps in this process. One of the first steps for the District is to take back responsibility for the U.S. Parole Commission.
In addition to changes that led to the close of the Lorton Prison Complex, the 1997 D.C. Revitalization Act also abolished the D.C. Board of Parole, vesting decision-making authority in the federal U.S. Parole Commission (USPC) for grants of parole for D.C. prisoners and for revocations of parole and supervised release for released prisoners. In 1997, the total DC prisoner population was around 11,500 – 12,000 prisoners in the D.C. Jail and the Lorton Prison Complex. In 2018, there are approximately 6,743 D.C. prisoners, with 2,043 held in local jails and 4,700 in the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The USPC was most recently re-authorized by the U.S. Congress through November 2020. If no action is taken, the USPC could be extended for another five years, or longer, maintaining federal control of D.C. Parole.
The USPC’s caseload is almost entirely made up of D.C. parole matters, with federal parole much less than 20 percent of the USPC’s caseload.
The USPC has become a driver of mass incarceration in D.C. The decisions of the USPC have been far harsher than those of the former D.C. Board of Parole, with hundreds of D.C. prisoners denied parole under punitive parole decision-making practices and thousands of D.C. returning citizens returned to incarceration for violation of the USPC’s rules. There are currently approximately 4,700 D.C. prisoners housed in the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). More than one-third of these prisoners are held for parole or supervised release violations (1,647). More than one-quarter of D.C. prisoners are serving sentences with parole eligibility (1,280).
The process for restoring local control of parole requires D.C. legislation to re-create a D.C. Board of Parole and federal legislative amendments to the D.C. Revitalization Act. It will also require new legislation reauthorizing the USPC for a limited interim transition period.
The FY2019 budget request for the USPC is $12.672 million. A D.C. Board of Parole budget would likely be significantly smaller, due to the exclusion of federal parole and more limited staffing requirements.
130 IAHR supporters are pen pals of DC residents in the Bureau of Prisons. This issue affects our pen pals. It is important that DC residents write Council Member Charles Allen who is the chairperson of the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. Please urge Council member Allen ad his Committee to come up with a plan to take back control of the U.S. Patrol Commission.
This month IAHR is kicking off a column composed by one of our pen pals who is incarcerated at the Lawrenceville Correctional Center in Virginia. Lawrenceville is a state prison. Our correspondent’s name is Marqui Clardy, Sr. Here is Marqui’s first letter.
What would you do if you stumbled into a room amongst a group of individuals who have been convicted of robbery, murder, gang activity, and using firearms? How would you react? Most people would likely perceive that a group as some outlaw clique of thugs and gangsters, and they’d zoom out of that room faster than sonic the hedgehog. This is why, as a convicted felon, one of the many probationary terms to which i'll be subjected after I’m released from prison is that I won’t be allowed to affiliate with any other convicted felons. There’s a skewed perception among lawmakers- and maybe even society in general - That two or more felons socializing could only mean one thing… that we must be up to no good. That’s why the law was implemented, and violating it would likely land me right back behind bars. Continue Reading...
IAHR is interested in posting on its website, material generated by our incarcerated pen pals. This material could be short essays on prison life, drawings, or religious reflections. We are asking our pen pals to ask their pen pals on the inside to submit material. Please send the material to Sarah Vanags, IAHR’s Director of Communications.