March 2024 Newsletter

A lot has happened during the last month! For the first time, IAHR and the Virginia Coalition on Solitary was successful in having its solitary bill passed by both houses of the Virginia Legislature!  The bill limits isolation to 15 consecutive days over 90 days with a maximum of 60 days for an entire year. We asking everyone on the link below to write to Governor Youngkin urging him to sign the legislation.

The last month has been busy in Maryland. A bill similar to our Virginia solitary bill was registered in the Legislature. Delegate N. Scott Phillips and Senator Mary Washington have been our lead sponsors. Below you will find an account of where we stand in Maryland.  

You will also find an update on Kevin "Rashid" Johnson who has been engaged in a hunger strike at Red Onion Prison. Read about Kevin's situation below. 

As we did last month, IAHR is publishing a report from the Prison Policy Initiative on incarceration in Maryland. The report has spiffy graphs on the distribution of incarcerated people, the racial makeup of those incarcerated, and a host of other important facts.

Action Alert: Write Governor Youngkin to sign HB1244/SB719 to End Prolonged Isolation In VA

Update on the Maryland Solitary Legislation

Update on Kevin "Rashid" Johnson

PPI: Maryland Incarceration Statistics

Action Alert: Support HB 1244/SB719 to End Prolonged Isolation in Virginia

IAHR urges all Virginia residents to support HB 1244 which ends prolonged isolation in Virginia State Prisons. It limits any isolation to no more than 15 consecutive days. HB 1244/SB719 passed both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate on Monday, March 5, 2024. This is a great accomplishment! This is the first time a bill limiting solitary has passed both houses in the Virginia Legislature. 

We now need to press Governor Youngkin to sign the legislation. 

Click on this link, prepared by S.A.L.T., to send a letter to Governor Youngkin urging him to sign HB1244.  

Now is a critical moment to push for the Virginia legislature and Governor to restrict the use of Restorative housing and isolated confinement. Please take one minute to urge Virginia lawmakers to enact HB1244/SB719 today. 

Photo from the New Yorker

Click Here to urge Governor Youngkin to end torture in VA State Prisons!

Click here to read more about the success of the VA Coalition on Solitary Confinement.

Update on Maryland Solitary Legislation

Members of the MD Coalition on Solitary spent March 6 and 7 in Annapolis preparing for our hearing with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. We met with our lead sponsors, Senator Washington and Delegate  Phillips, each day. They both impressed us with their commitment to the issue, their wanting to know more information and their sharing with us what we are up against. Two of the wardens and a Sheriff's deputy met with Delegate Phillips on Wednesday and presented their objections to him.

On Wednesday, a panel of six people presented our case for SB1085, limiting isolation in Maryland State prisons. The Committee members did not question us. However, one Corrections’ Commissioner and the current warden at MCI-Jessup testified against our bill. They argued on both days that limiting solitary would undermine security in the prisons. According to them, solitary is the fundamental way to maintain order. Without solitary there would be chaos. They also argued that there would be mass resignations of correctional officers if HB1144/SB1085 passed. We were not allowed to challenge their opinions.

On March 7, Delegate Phillips was very well prepared when he presented HB1144 to the whole committee. He prepared several of his colleagues to ask our panel questions as well. A similar cast of characters representing the Department spoke in opposition. Although we had stated that the bill excludes county correctional facilities, a county sheriff spoke against the bill. He said that if the bill passed, he was afraid we would come in next year with a bill addressed to county facilities. As they did the day before, the correctional officials argued that limiting solitary would undermine security and lead to mass resignations of staff. They didn't believe that limiting isolation would save any money, although we cited evidence that it did.  They seemed to indicate that they would participate in a study on the issue.

Two other relevant pieces of legislation were also presented to the Judiciary Committee on March 7. One was the legislation to establish an ombudsman for the prison system. The other was to establish an office that would have the authority to investigate every death that occurred in a state prison or county jail. There were many panels of people who spoke in favor of both bills. Each of these panels included relatives of incarcerated people who had been abused or died in a state prison. The testimony for these three pieces of legislation painted a picture of a correctional system in which many people suffer from prolonged isolation, inadequate medical care, physical abuse from correctional officers, and unexpected deaths. No opposition surfaced for the ombudsman bill or the office to investigate deaths in correctional facilities. Our legislation will be the hardest to get through since it directly challenges the leadership of DPSCS and the wardens.  

The deadline for the Judiciary Committee to vote on our legislation is March 12.  All legislation that has been voted on is passed to the other chamber on March 18, which is called “crossover day.”  Updates to follow.

IAHR is grateful to Natasha White, Judge Phil Caroom, Margaret Barry, Olinda Moyd, Em Holcomb, and Bob Rhudy for testifying at the Maryland Legislative Hearings on March 6 and 7.  

Top photo: Natasha White testifying before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Judge Phil Caroom is seated next to Natasha. 

Bottom photo: Margaret Barry testifying before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Senator Mary Washington is seated next to Margaret. 

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Update on Kevin "Rashid" Johnson

By Phil Wilayto for the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

Rashid's court hearing scheduled for Monday, March 11, has been canceled

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a native of Richmond, is a politically conscious prisoner, author, poet and artist who is courageously and uncompromisingly challenging the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Rashid’s attorneys filed a motion for a preliminary injunction concerning the retaliation he has suffered for his political outspokenness. An emergency hearing on the motion was set for 9 a.m. Monday, March 11, in Judge Henry Hudson's courtroom in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 701 E. Broad St. in Richmond. The Virginia Defenders called on everyone concerned about Prison Justice to come out for this hearing. 

That court hearing has now been canceled.

According to his attorneys, progress is being made in reaching Rashid’s goal of not being sent back to Red Onion, where he believes he has been severely mistreated, or any other prison in Virginia's Western Region. This would allow him to remain closer to Richmond, where he has been receiving medical care for his serious ongoing health issues.

Click here for more information on Mr. Johnson.

PPI: Maryland profile   

Charts & graphs
Reports & briefings
Other resources

Maryland has an incarceration rate of 531 per 100,000 people (including prisons, jails, immigration detention, and juvenile justice facilities), meaning that it locks up a higher percentage of its people than almost any democratic country on earth. Read on to learn more about who is incarcerated in Maryland and why.

32,000 people from Maryland are behind bars

Pie chart showing that 36,000 Maryland residents are locked up in federal prisons, state prisons, local jails and other types of facilities

Additionally, the number of people impacted by county and city jails in Maryland is much larger than the graph above would suggest because people cycle through local jails relatively quickly. Each year, at least 83,000 different people are booked into local jails in Maryland.

Click here to read the rest of the Maryland Report. 

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