Dear Delegate ____:
I am writing on behalf of the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement* to alert you to the attached draft bill, which will be introduced in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. It is likely to be referred to the House Committee on Militia, Police, and Public Safety, of which you are a member. I am also attaching some brief background information about the bill. We hope you will support the bill, and we look forward to finding a convenient time to discuss it with you in the days ahead.
This is a modest bill that would require the Department of Corrections (DOC) to report annually to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the public certain basic information about who is in solitary confinement (“restrictive housing”), for how long, and for what reasons. As the DOC continues efforts to reduce the number of prisoners who are in prolonged isolation, we believe this information is essential for ensuring accountability and objectively assessing where remaining problems may persist. We also believe more data is needed regarding the mental health status and needs of incarcerated people, which this bill would begin to address.
We continue to hear from incarcerated people and family members of prisoners who have been in solitary confinement (“restrictive housing”) for indefinite and extensive periods – which is known to cause and/or exacerbate mental health problems – without access to a meaningful opportunity to challenge the decision to place or keep them in isolation. We also are aware of individuals with apparent untreated mental health issues who have spent prolonged periods in “restrictive housing.”
All Virginians have a stake in ensuring that incarceration does not inflict damage on prisoners that is avoidable and not part of their sentence. I hope you agree that minimizing the use of solitary confinement and treating prisoners in a way that is seen by the public to be consistent, transparent, accountable, and humane are important objectives. We look forward to talking with you about this important issue in the near future.
*The Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement represents Virginians who seek to minimize the use of prolonged solitary confinement and eliminate abusive treatment in detention facilities in Virginia. It includes Interfaith Action for Human Rights, the ACLU of Virginia, the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Virginia, VA-CURE, Social Action Linking Together (SALT), the Virginia Catholic Conference, the NAACP of Fairfax County, Amnesty International of Northern Virginia, Social Workers Against Solitary Confinement, and many individual citizens of the Commonwealth.