Special Legislative Edition-January 2022
This month the IAHR newsletter is geared to the opening session of the Virginia and Maryland Legislatures on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. You will find an outline of our legislation in Maryland and Virginia. For Maryland residents, we urge you to send the enclosed letter to the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
In Virginia, please read the talking points for our bill and the sample letter addressed to the leadership of the Virginia House of Delegates. In Virginia we have the support of the Senate Leadership, but we expect significant resistance from some of the newly installed Republican leaders.
In Maryland, we have the support of the leadership of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee.
We are also announcing two upcoming programs. One is a program on January 19 on the conditions in the DC Jail and the other is a Town Hall Meeting on February 2 that will update our efforts in the Maryland and Virginia Legislative sessions.
IAHR’s primary legislative priority in Maryland is HB 67. This bill, sponsored by Delegate Jazz Lewis (Dem. District 24) will require the Commissioner of Corrections to:
- provide a “Step-Down Program” to an incarcerated individual before transfer from restrictive housing to the general population or direct release.
- The Commissioner must provide justification, documented in writing, if an incarcerated individual is transitioned to the general population or the community without participating in a Step-Down Program.
- The bill also establishes the right for an incarcerated individual with less than 180 days until release to the community to access a Step-Down Program, with limited exceptions, and
- allows for a cause of action for a former incarcerated individual who has been denied the right to access a Step-Down Program, under specific circumstances who has suffered specific or direct injury as a result of the denial.
This Step-Down Program shall be individualized to the needs of the individual and involve a coordinated, multidisciplinary treatment team approach. This team may include mental health professionals, healthcare professionals, and correctional staff.
Components of the Step-Down Program:
- A pre-screening evaluation
- Monthly evaluations to document program compliance
- Gradual increases in out-of-cell time
- Gradual increase to include group interaction
Accountability and transparency:
The Commissioner of Correction will be required to document in writing the justification for someone being transferred directly from restrictive housing to general population OR to the community without having participated in a Step-Down Program.
During the past two years, every incarcerated individual has been held in restrictive housing. Every individual who has been released since the beginning of the pandemic, has been released directly back to the community without any kind of transitional or supportive plan.
To get involved, please contact Kimberly Haven, IAHR Legislative Liaison, at [email protected]
What we do to and don’t do for those who are incarcerated, they will bring back to our communities.
Send this Sample Letter to Maryland House Judiciary Chair, Luke Clippinger and Vice-Chair David Moon and to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Will Smith and Jeff Waldstreicher
Delegate Luke Clippinger Delegate David Moon
Senator Will Smith Senator Jeff Waldstreicher
Direct release from restrictive housing is a public safety concern and will again come before the General Assembly this year. Because of the effect of the pandemic on our prisons, reforming this practice has become even more imperative than ever before. I am asking you to support HB 67 which will end direct release from restrictive housing.
Prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DCSPS) released approximately 250 to 300 people each year directly to the community from restrictive housing without any form of step-down transition to prepare them to return to the community. Often, these individuals have no clear plans about where to live, where they will find employment, or how to access services they need, such as health care or assistance in obtaining forms of personal identification. Without any kind of preparation, re-socialization, transition coordination or reentry services, incarcerated people in restrictive housing are the least likely to return safely to our communities and are more likely to reoffend. The practice of direct release from restrictive housing puts both communities and the individual inmate at risk.
In 2016, DPSCS was legislatively mandated to submit annual reports concerning the use of restrictive housing in state prison facilities to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention and the General Assembly on or before December 31st. The Department has failed to provide these reports for the past two years.
The pandemic has made this situation worse. Since the onset of the pandemic, our entire incarcerated population has been placed in restrictive housing. The thousands of individuals who were released to mitigate the spread of COVID and its variants through the system, were released directly from this restrictive housing situation.
The DPSCS dashboard projects that 1558 individuals will be released in 2022. These individuals too are impacted by restrictive housing and its harm and damage– to the individual and our communities.
HB 67 will come before you and your committee this session to end direct release from restrictive housing. This legislation seeks to end this unsafe practice by establishing a Step-Down program for individuals in restrictive housing. I am asking you to support HB 67.
Numerous studies have shown that a Step-Down process reduces the risk of recidivism. Legislation like HB 67 has been successfully implemented in sixteen states. This legislation will not add to the cost of Maryland’s prison system. During the past year, DPSCS has reduced its prison populations by ten percent, freeing up resources. It has also added social work staff and has the resources to implement this modest and needed change.
This current practice poses a threat to public safety and undermines the chances of incarcerated people to reenter the community successfully.
Please support HB 67 when it comes before you.
Sincerely, your name
The Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement is made up of over 20 Virginia organizations with thousands of members from all corners of the state and are calling for action.
Solitary Confinement is the practice of keeping an individual in a one- or two-person cell with no opportunities for meaningful interaction with others. This happens in prisons because of rule infractions, while awaiting disciplinary hearings, and for individuals seeking protection from real or perceived threats. In FY2020, the most recent year data is available, the DOC reported 9,390 stays in solitary confinement. 3,672 of those confinements were for over 14 days!
In July 2021 and in January 2019 the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) claimed to have ended the use of solitary confinement (Restrictive Housing) in Virginia's prisons.
We have multiple independent accounts of men being held in solitary since VADOC’s most recent claims that they ended Solitary. Additionally, more have come forward but are afraid to go public because of retaliation from Corrections officers.
What are we asking for in the bill to end extended Solitary Confinement?
- No one may spend more than 15 days in solitary confinement during a 60 day period
- While in solitary, individuals will have 7 hours out-of-cell/out-of-cage time for meaningful interaction
- Individuals not in solitary confinement nor in general population will have access to meaningful congregate programing
What States have eliminated solitary confinement?
Delaware, North Dakota, New York, and New Jersey have passed similar bills in recent years
Colorado and Washington have put in place similar measures administratively, by adopting restrictions on solitary in their regulations, policies or practices.
What has been the true fiscal impact?
According to the ACLU fact sheet, “Paying the Price for Solitary Confinement”:
Colorado closed a segregation facility built for 316 prisoners, saving an estimated $13.6 million in 2013-14. Illinois closed Tamms supermax prison in 2013, resulting in estimated savings of $26 million per year. Mississippi closed a unit in 2010 that had held 1,000 prisoners in isolation. Estimated savings were $8 million per year. According to a January 2016 report by Solitary Watch, California expects to save $28 million in 2016-17 from the reductions in solitary confinement following the Ashker v. Brown settlement.
Isn’t Solitary Confinement for the “worst of the worst”?
No. According to data from the Virginia Department of Corrections most individuals placed in solitary confinement have only a handful of infractions, if any, before their placement.
Are there any alternatives to Solitary Confinement?
Yes. Individuals that pose threats to others can be transferred to a different housing unit at the same security level or a higher security level prison.
Individuals that fear for their safety can be transferred away from the person or group that they are threatened by.
Prosocial programming can be used to address behavioral concerns more productively than punishing someone by keeping them in a cell the size of a parking space indefinitely.
Can the Department of Corrections be trusted to follow this law if it is passed?
Given the recent history of prisons not following the policies and procedures coming from DOC HQ and DOC’s multiple claims to have ended solitary confinement in the past we don’t believe the DOC can be trusted without independent review. That is why we are also calling for the passage of a bill that would create an independent Ombudsman to investigate complaints against the DOC.
What Can You Do?
Delegate Tony Wilt Speaker Todd Gilbert
Delegate Terry Kilgore
Contact Delegate Tony Wilt incoming chair of House Public Safety Committee,
Delegate Todd Gilbert, incoming Speaker of the House, and
Delegate Terry Kilgore, incoming House Majority Leader. Tell them to end solitary confinement in Virginia prisons and jails.
Sample Letter to the Leadership of the Virginia House of Delegates
Please support SB108 which limits prolonged isolation (restrictive housing) in Virginia State Prisons to 15 consecutive days within a 60 day period. While in isolation, individuals will have 7 hours out-of-cell/out-of-cage time for meaningful interaction. Individuals not in isolation (solitary confinement) nor in general population will have access to meaningful congregate programing.
Isolating a person with minimal human contact creates lasting physical and psychological harm. Unfortunately, this practice has been prevalent in Virginia’s prisons for years. The international community, including the UN, consider 15 days or more in solitary confinement to be torture. Since the end of 2020, the Department of Corrections has settled multiple lawsuits regarding their use of solitary confinement (restrictive housing) that have cost the Commonwealth millions of dollars. I am asking you to support Senator Morrisey and Senator Vogel’s bill, SB108, to stop torture in Virginia’s prisons by ending extended prolonged isolation.
Delaware, North Dakota, New York, and New Jersey have passed bills similar to SB108 in recent years. Colorado and Washington have put in place similar measures administratively, by adopting restrictions on solitary in their regulations, policies or practices.
Virginia likes to think of itself as a leader in prison practices and reform. It is time for the Virginia House of Delegates to act and end prolonged isolation in state prisons by passing SB108.
Sincerely, your name
In November, 2021, the DC Jail became a headline in the local and national media. Many accused of participating in the insurrection on January 6, 2021 complained to sympathetic Congressional Representatives about the terrible conditions in the jail. The upshot of this was that federal marshals said it would remove about 400 federal inmates from a Washington, D.C., jail after an inspection revealed that one of its facilities did not meet the minimum standards required by federal regulations. Controversy ensured when it was revealed that the most of those removed were DC residents who were would be far from DC, their attorneys, and their family and friends.
IAHR has invited Emily Tatro, Deputy Director of the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) and Russell Rowe, a returning citizen who was incarcerated at the jail in 2021, to discuss the problems and the challenges in the jail and what local leaders are planning to do about it. We will be asking them about the physical conditions, treatment by correctional officers, the use of solitary confinement, and the future of the jail.
Emily Tatro (she/her) serves as Deputy Director of the Council for Court Excellence where she develops and leads policy and advocacy work to address the most pressing issues in D.C.’s criminal legal system, especially those impacting people returning home from prison and jail. Prior to joining CCE, Emily was the Criminal and Disability Rights Fellow for the D.C. Jail and Prison Advocacy Project at Disability Rights D.C., a program of University Legal Services. Before that, she spent her days on the Peace Path, building conflict resolution skills with three- and four-year-olds in her Pre-K classroom. Emily is honored to serve on the board of Collective Action for Safe Spaces, a grassroots organization working to eliminate public gendered harassment and violence in D.C. Emily holds a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. in Sociology from Temple University. She loves feeding her friends, soccer, and burying her nose in a good book.
To receive the zoom link Please RSVP at by clicking here.
Natasha White David Smith
On Wednesday, February 2, at 6 p.m., IAHR is sponsoring a special virtual Town Hall Meeting. At the meeting Natasha White, Coordinator for the VA Coalition on Solitary, David Smith, IAHR Board Member, and Kimberly Haven, IAHR’s Maryland Legislative Liaison will be making presentations. They will describe our legislation, the status of solitary legislation in the Virginia and Maryland Legislatures, and actions that you can take to support our advocacy.
To receive the zoom link, please RSVP by clicking here.