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. As a first step, the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement chaired by IAHR's secretary Gay Gardner wrote a reporting bill that was introduced during the 2019 Virginia legislative session by Delegate Patrick Hope.
The “Reporting” on Restrictive Housing legislation (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. Governor Northam signed the bill into law in April 2019.
During the 2020 legislative session, the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement plans to introduce legislation that would strengthen the current reporting requirements. The new legislation would require the Department of Corrections to report data on how solitary is used in each prison as well as in the aggregate. It also would mandate the Department of Corrections to report on how solitary is used with vulnerable populations such as the mentally ill and those who are disabled.
In addition, the Coalition plans to introduce legislation that would limit the number of consecutive days a seriously mentally ill person could be placed in solitary confinement.
The Coalition thanks all its partners and Delegate Hope for all their work on this issue during the 2019 legislative session.
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."