Virginia corrections officials, through their Step Down Programs at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge Prisons have implicitly recognized that long-term isolation is harmful and needs to be reduced. Prisoners, however – including some who have completed the Step Down Program – and their families have raised some disturbing issues that point to a need for a closer look. Their allegations include that even prisoners who complete the Step Down Program can find themselves repeatedly placed back in "administrative segregation" for indefinite periods ranging from 30 days to 6 months or more, following disciplinary charges that are sometimes fabricated or inflated.
Gay Gardner and Kimberly Jenkins Snodgrass have led IAHR’s work in exposing the human rights abuses at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge. Here is a video in which they describe some of the abuses:
IAHR is working with other advocates to explore how, together, we can address these charges effectively. A first step may be introducing a reporting bill in 2019 Virginia legislative session. Like the one in Maryland, this bill would mandate the Virginia Department of Corrections to report how solitary confinement is used throughout the prison system.
IAHR is exploring ways to involve members of faith communities in Virginia in looking out for the well-being of prisoners who too rarely see evidence that anyone outside the prison walls cares.
This excerpt from a letter we received from an inmate at Wallens Ridge State Prison, shows how much it means to some prisoners simply to know that someone on the outside cares:
"I am so very thankful for the concern you have shown for me and my well being. . . I am thankful for you being more than just a bunch of "talk”. . . I am thankful for everything that you and Interfaith Action for Human Rights are all about. . . It's not often that I've witnessed anything beyond rhetoric from those in society that are in positions to make change in the way that prisoners are often mistreated. I've heard about and read about such people and organizations, but never have I had real life experience with such people or organizations. I know that I'm just a drop in the bucket, life is filled with so many more problematic issues far, far, far greater than mine...Yet someone took time out of their day to say to me (through words and actions), "I hear you, and you matter." I'll be forever grateful."