On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, Little River United Church of Christ's Board of Outreach and Social Justice, along with SALT (Social Action Linking Together) and Interfaith Action for Human Rights, hosted a forum on solitary confinement, its impact on mental health, and how different states are responding to this human rights crisis.
"The Virginia Council of Churches believes strongly that the United States should do everything it can to reverse our nation’s harmful and expensive reliance on solitary confinement."
The Virginia Council of Churches was among the many religious organizations throughout the U.S. that submitted written testimony for the second Congressional Hearing on Solitary Confinement on February 25, 2014. The testimony, submitted by Rev. Jonathan M. Barton, General Minister of the Virginia Council of Churches, is available here.
"Mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement left behind" by Hope R. Amezquita, The Roanoke Times, September 30, 2013. “Though the Virginia Department of Corrections has recently won praise for reforming its solitary confinement practices, a glaring omission to those reforms is any program that could be effective in helping those who suffer from mental illness or who developed mental illnesses as a result of detention in solitary. Warehousing Virginia’s prisoners with serious mental illnesses in isolation units without proper treatment amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and we urgently need to address this."
On June 28, 2013, Governor McDonnell approved new rules that ensure local and regional facilities place limits on the use of shackling pregnant mothers who are incarcerated. In 2011, in conversation with the coalition of which NRCAT was a part, the Virginia Department of Corrections expanded its policy limiting the use of restraints on pregnant inmates. However, many of the reported cases of women being restrained while pregnant have occurred in local and regional jails, which are not covered under the Department of Corrections’ policy. The Board of Corrections has the authority to create rules for these facilities and in 2012 it approved proposed regulations limiting the use of restraints on pregnant women at local and regional jails. Now, with the Governor’s approval of these proposed regulations, the new rules will advance to the next step in the regulatory process – a 60 day public comment period starting July 29, 2013.
In January 2012, Virginia state legislators, Senator Ebbin and Delegates Charniele Herring and Patrick Hope, introduced companion resolutions, SJR 93 and HJR 126, to establish a study of the Virginia Department of Correction’s use of solitary confinement ("segregation"). NRCAT and our local partner, the Virginia Council of Churches (VCC), lobbied state legislators about the moral implications of the use of solitary confinement and the importance of studying this issue. Unfortunately, the House bill was tabled in subcommittee. The Senate passed an amended version of the Senate bill, SJR 93, which directed the study to the Virginia State Crime Commission. SJR 93 crossed over to the House, but was killed by the House Rules Committee on February 21, 2012. On March 19, 2012, Senator Ebbin and Delegates Charniele Herring and Patrick Hope sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation of Virginia's use of segregation.
On March 30, 2012 the Virginia Department of Corrections publicly announced plans to tweak policies on using isolation at Virginia's supermax prison, Red Onion State Prison.
In response to the Department's reported changes, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) sent a letter to Governor McDonnell expressing that NRCAT was pleased that the Department of Corrections plans to improve solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison. However, we urged Governor McDonnell to request that the Department of Corrections invite independent experts to assist in the process.
Starting May 22, 2012, inmates participated in a week-long hunger strike to protest conditions at Red Onion State Prison, including indefinite solitary confinement, saying reforms promised in March were not coming quickly enough.
On December 19, 2012, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture was pleased to attend a presentation by the Virginia Department of Corrections concerning the reduced use of "segregation" at Red Onion State Prison and Wallens Ridge State Prison. Over the past year, the Department has implemented changes including a "step-down process" to provide inmates at these two facilities with the opporutnity to gradually earn increased freedom and privileges. As a result, the Department reports a forty-three percent reduction in the number of inmates in "segregation" status.
Links to news stories covering the use of solitary confinement in Virginia are available here.