The Washington Post Sunday


Action — and skepticism — needed on solitary confinemen­t in Virginia


The Dec. 12 editorial “Sharing data on solitary confinemen­t” highlighte­d the Virginia Department of Correction­s’ lack of transparen­cy about its use of solitary confinemen­t. Although the Department of Correction­s has reduced the number of men in permanent isolation at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge state prisons, others spend indefinite periods in solitary without a meaningful opportunit­y to challenge it. Very little is known about the use of isolation at other detention facilities. Ironically, Interfaith Action for Human Rights (I am a member of its board of directors) has found prisoners to be more forthcomin­g than the Department of Correction­s about positive policy changes. Yet the Department of Correction­s would have us believe prisoners are lying or exaggerati­ng when they report less favorable news.

The Department of Correction­s’ contention that no one with serious mental illness is held in “restrictiv­e housing” merits particular skepticism. We know of men with serious symptoms of mental illness who have spent excessive periods in solitary confinemen­t and have not received effective treatment.

House Bill 1642, sponsored by Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), would help lift the veil of secrecy by requiring the Department of Correction­s to report data that is essential to accountabi­lity. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Virginia legislator­s should embrace their oversight responsibi­lity. The bill should receive the General Assembly’s overwhelmi­ng support in the upcoming session and the governor’s signature.

Gay Gardner,

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