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IAHR'S Response to Governor Youngkin's Veto

Governor Youngkin's decision to veto the solitary confinement limitations bill is deeply concerning and reflects a disregard for the well-being and humane treatment of incarcerated individuals in Virginia's facilities. Despite the ongoing hunger strikes and the overwhelming support this bill received in both the Virginia State Senate and House, Governor Youngkin has chosen to prioritize his agenda over the lives of those affected by solitary confinement.

As a formerly incarcerated survivor of solitary confinement, I am profoundly disappointed and outraged by this blatant disregard for the suffering experienced by countless individuals subjected to solitary confinement. This decision not only perpetuates the cycle of harm within our criminal justice system but also undermines any progress toward creating a more just and compassionate society.

Governor Youngkin's assertion that vetoing this bill is somehow in line with making Virginia the "best place to live, work, and raise a family" is both disingenuous and morally reprehensible. True progress cannot be achieved while turning a blind eye to the inhumane treatment of the most vulnerable members of our society.

I urge Governor Youngkin to reconsider his decision and prioritize the lives and well-being of all Virginians, including those who are incarcerated. It is time to move forward with compassion, empathy, and a commitment to justice for all.  

Natasha White

Director of Community Engagement (IAHR)
Interfaith Action for Human Rights
Email: [email protected]
Phone/Text: 318-295-5343

Governor Youngkin's Veto Statement

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6 of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto Senate Bill 719, which regulates the use of restorative housing.

During the 2023 legislative session, the General Assembly came together in a bipartisan manner to enact reforms to improve the Department of Corrections' utilization of restorative housing. I supported and signed that legislation, which has since been implemented by the Department, bringing in best practices that have proven beneficial for correction officers and inmates.

These reforms represent the culmination of significant efforts by the Department, positioning us as a national leader in correctional innovation. The Department remains committed to developing new programs and fostering collaboration with diverse voices and stakeholders.

Central to the agency's mission is reentry and long-term public safety, guided by data-driven decision-making and evidence-based practices. The restorative housing program, operating within these principles, stands as a component to ensure safety and security for both inmates and staff.

The new definitions and regulations provided in this proposal pose challenges to the continued success of these reforms. Designating mental health units as isolated confinement without consideration for the informed judgment of mental health professionals undermines effective prison management. Furthermore, imposing arbitrary timeframes for stays in restorative housing, including investigation time, restricts the staff's ability to maintain order and security.

Attempting to legislate prison operational procedures carries inherent risks to inmates, staff, and the public. Corrections professionals are entrusted with oversight for a reason, as they must balance multiple interests while ensuring safety. Congregating individuals without proper management protocols is not a viable solution.

Additionally, I have concerns regarding the budgetary implications of implementing this proposal. The allocated resources in the proposed Budget may not adequately cover the costs, potentially diverting funding from vital reentry programs and initiatives to reduce recidivism. Additionally, the proposal introduces unnecessary bureaucracy for facility administrators, detracting from the Department's ability to prioritize safety and inmate rehabilitation.

While I remain committed to fostering a correctional system that prioritizes the safety of all stakeholders, including everyday Virginians, inmates, and correctional officers, I do not believe it is currently prudent to proceed with this proposal. My signature on the bipartisan reforms of 2023, the establishment of a Department of Corrections Ombudsman in the Budget, and my continued support for new leadership within the Department underscore my dedication to this cause.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

HB 1244/SB719 to Limit Solitary Confinement

Richmond, VA - Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), in collaboration with its Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement partners, including Social Action Linking Together and the Humanization Project, is calling for Governor Youngkin to sign HB 1244/SB719.

HB1244/SB719 Restorative Housing and isolated confinement: restrictions on use; establishes a time limit for the use of solitary confinement, limiting usage to a maximum of 15 days. SB719passed the Virginia Senate on February 23, 2024, with a vote of 21-Y/17-N, and HB1244passed the House on March 5, 2024, 51-Y/49-N.

This groundbreaking bill, with chief patron Delegate Joshua Cole leading HB1244 and chief patron Senator Lamont Bagby leading SB719, aims to reduce the use of prolonged solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, promote rehabilitation through pro-social programming, and enhance transparency in the use of solitary confinement.

Transparency is an essential aspect of HB1244/SB719. The bill introduces mechanisms for increased reporting and oversight of the use of solitary confinement in Virginia prisons. Facility administrators must provide written notification to the regional administrator within 24 hours of placing an incarcerated person in solitary confinement. This reporting requirement will ensure accountability, enable better monitoring, and allow potential concerns to be addressed.

The Coalition strongly advocates for the elimination of prolonged solitary and urges Virginia to implement alternative measures that can ensure a safer environment for both staff and incarcerated individuals. “It is imperative for the governor to take immediate action to address the inhumane and torturous conditions that incarcerated individuals are enduring in Virginia prisons. The Coalition and General Assembly have fulfilled their civic responsibility. Now, it is Governor Youngkin's turn to prioritize incarcerated individuals’ well-being by stroking his pen in a positive direction," says Kimberly Jenkins Snodgrass, Senior Advisor for IAHR Criminal Justice Reform.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Natasha White

Director of Community Engagement

Interfaith Action for Human Rights

(318) 295-5343

[email protected]

X: @Onsolitary / IG: @coalition_on_solitary


To Virginia Prison Justice Advocates:

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.

So the struggle is not over, but there is reason for hope.

Rashid has been a leader in the hunger strike started by prisoners on December 26 at the Red Onion Supermax prison in rural Wise County. The main issue has been the continued use of long-term solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons. Rashid has also been demanding that he be kept at a prison near Richmond to have access to proper medical care for his advanced prostate cancer and heart problems. 

 For background information on Rashid and the Red Onion hunger strike, see the current edition of The Virginia Defender (

We are calling on all Prison Justice Advocates to support Rashid and all the prisoners who took part in the Red Onion hunger strike. Show the prison authorities that the men, women and children behind bars have the support of the community. Demand an end to solitary confinement and all other injustices in the Virginia prison system. AN INJURY TO ONE IS AN INJURY TO ALL! 

For background information on Rashid and the Red Onion hunger strike, see the current edition of The Virginia Defender (


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

Hunger Strike at Red Onion Prison Continues

Kevin “Rashid'' Johnson has been on Hunger Strike inside Red Onion State Prison since December 26th. Rashid began leading a group of several other prisoners in the strike to protest the prison’s use of solitary confinement inside – now 30-some prisoners are striking. 


Since July 2023, the prison has tried to rebrand its use of this brutal practice as “restorative housing” to skirt the law in the state of Virginia banning the dangerous use of solitary confinement.

None of the participants in the strike will accept any food until their demands are met. Read their Demand Letter Here. We reported on Rashid’s transfer to the Red Onion State Prison in mid-November – his transfer was ordered in retaliation to his efforts to get adequate healthcare in the wake of his cancer and congestive heart failure diagnoses. Other strikers suffer from underlying health conditions that make their political act of resistance and solidarity both desperate and risky. Their lives are on the line. Click here to read more. 

Artwork by Rashid Johnson. This piece was made in solidarity with the Pelican Bay hunger strike in 2013

The City Council vote has highlighted a broader debate over whether solitary confinement is torture or a legitimate form of punishment for violent detainees.

The City Council approved a measure that would ban solitary confinement except during a four-hour period in an emergency.Credit...Seth Wenig/Associated Press
Dec. 20, 2023Updated 6:46 p.m. ET

New York City banned most uses of solitary confinement in city jails on Wednesday, setting the stage for a showdown between City Council leaders and Mayor Eric Adams, who opposes the ban and has vowed to veto the measure.

The Council vote, 39 to 7, was framed by supporters as a pivotal moment in a national push to make jails more humane. But the bill also highlighted a broader discussion about whether solitary confinement is torture or a legitimate form of punishment for detainees who grossly violate codes of conduct.

Officials at the United Nations have called the practice torture, and a large body of research links it to increased risks for worsened mental illness, self-harm, and suicide. There are also racial disparities in its use: Black and Latino people are more likely to be put in solitary confinement.

But jail officials in New York and Mr. Adams, a former police captain, say that past abuses of solitary confinement, where detainees were held in isolation for long periods, have ended.

City jail officials said at a Council hearing last year that 117 people were being held separately out of roughly 6,000 detainees, though advocates say that the number of people held in isolation is higher. Jail officials maintain that separating violent detainees temporarily is the only way to keep everyone safe.

Mr. Adams has argued that the ban would make jails less safe....

Click here for the rest of the article.  

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams speaks at a City Hall Park rally calling on the city to stick with its 2027 timeline to close Rikers Island, March 16, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Write Gov Youngkin to End the Use of Attack Dogs
On March 6, 2021, Gay Gardner, IAHR’s Special Advisor on Virginia, was interviewed in the Washington Post by Theresa Vargas about the use of attack dogs in Virginia State Prisons. Gay has gathered allegations of mauling of prisoners in nine different cases over the last few years. Two of the cases are in litigation. The State of Virginia still employs the use of attack dogs to break up fights. Incarcerated people are mauled and suffer life-long debilitating injuries.

This practice has to stop! Virginia Corrections Officials should be able to maintain security in the prison without the use of attack dogs. They should be able to de-escalate conflict when tensions rise. Most importantly, the image of God should be respected in every human being including incarcerated people.

Governor Youngkin has the power to end the use of attack dogs to break up fights in Virginia State Prisons. Please send the following message to Gov Youngkin, using the comment link on his website. Urge Gov Youngkin to stop the use of dogs for this purpose.

After reading Theresa Vargas’ column in the Washington Post, I am calling on you to end the practice of using dogs to control incarcerated people in Virginia. Ms. Vargas’ column shows that, all too often, K-9 units have been deployed inappropriately -- after an altercation has ended or simply to instill pain and terror -- and that they have resulted in serious, permanent injuries for which prisoners received little or no treatment. Many other states and the U.S. military have banned the use of dogs to guard prisoners. Virginia should, too.
Sincerely, Your Name