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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