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March 4, 2019

Today, the ACLU of Virginia joined the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement in calling on Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam to amend House Bill 1642 and Senate Bill 1777 which would require the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) to begin collecting and reporting data about the practice of solitary confinement. While the coalition is grateful to the Virginia General Assembly for unanimously passing this legislation, we believe that the bills, as passed by the legislature, remain flawed and will be, potentially, ineffective in accomplishing the goal of real transparency. 

"It does indirectly define "restrictive housing" as the practice of confining human beings to a small space alone for 22 hours a day or more, by reference to standards of the American Correctional Association (ACA)," stated the letter. "However, the rest of the definition is confusing, vague, and potentially allows VDOC to conceal the true extent of its practice of solitary confinement."

The letter listed a number of shortcomings of this legislation, including:

  • It does not require the department to keep count of incidents of self-harm or suicide that occur in “restrictive housing”;
  • It does not include a comprehensive definition of vulnerable populations or require the VDOC to keep track of those people when held in "restrictive housing”; or
  • It does not require the department to report the use of "restrictive housing" by each prison facility, only in the aggregate for the entire system. It also may allow the department to decide, based on its own interpretation of the law, which types of bed assignments and facilities would or would not be included in data collection without disclosing that information.

"Even as we write these words, the irreparable suffering and breach of humanity being inflicted on an unknown number of people in unspeakable conditions, in many cases because they have undiagnosed mental illness that is only being exacerbated in solitary confinement, is horrific and unforgivable," stated in the letter. "Solitary confinement is inhumane and unregulated, and we must begin to understand what the VDOC is doing. There are many other changes we might urge you to make to this legislation, but without the above amendments as minimum standards this bill only will yield highly questionable if not deliberately misleading data."

For the above reasons, the coalition strongly urges Gov. Northam to amend the bills and send them to the legislature for consideration during the veto session.

You can read the full letter below.