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The Middletown Press: Panel OKs bill seeking data on solitary confinement Print

BY: Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

Created: January 25, 2019 

A House committee voted unanimously Friday to require reports on solitary confinement in prisons across Virginia.

House Bill 1642 would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to submit semiannual reports to the General Assembly and governor detailing the DOC's use of solitary confinement.

The House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety approved the bill, 21-0. The panel sent the

measure to the House Appropriation Committee for a look at its financial impact before it goes to the House floor.

Also referred to as "restrictive housing," solitary confinement is defined as isolation in a cell for 22-24 hours of the day with little to no human interaction. The DOC does not currently report statistics on the number of inmates held in restrictive housing.

Sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, the legislation would provide the state legislature and governor statistics on the department's use of restrictive housing in correctional facilities. The information would also be posted online.

The semiannual report would include:

. Demographics such as age, race, ethnicity and status of mental health

. The average daily population held in restrictive housing

. The number of offenders placed in and released from restrictive housing

. Documentation of self-harm and suicide incidents or attempts

. The number of days each offender spent in confinement

. The number of full-time mental health staff

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia called on Gov. Ralph Northam in May to ban solitary confinement and limit its use to rare and exceptional cases. The ACLU said inmates should remain in restrictive housing for no more than 15 consecutive days, which aligns with international human rights standards. Currently, Virginia inmates placed in restrictive housing spend an average of 2.7 years in confinement, according to a 2018 ACLU report.

Nationally, about 88,000 inmates — or approximately 5 percent of all prisoners — are held in solitary confinement, according to a study done at Yale Law School.

Virginia has implemented reforms for restrictive housing before. The number of inmates held in solitary confinement at Red Onion — a maximum-security prison in Wise County — dropped 85 percent in the last decade. The facility, known for its use of restrictive housing, currently houses about 70 inmates in solitary confinement compared to 500 at the start of the decade, according to a Washington Post article.

The House Appropriations Committee could address HB 1642 as soon as Monday.

In the Senate, two Fairfax Democrats have offered similar legislation. Sen. David Marsden has proposed SB 1085, and Sen. Richard Saslaw has filed SB 1777.

On Friday, the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee folded Marsden's bill into Saslaw's and then unanimously approved SB 1077.


 



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