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.