The Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed a bill that would have required the state to study ways to limit the use of solitary
confinement in state prisons, especially of those who are mentally ill.
Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) proposed the bill after visiting state prisons last fall, including Red Onion in Southwest Virginia, to examine how their most violent inmates are treated.
The House killed the bill in its Rules Committee. A similar bill in the Senate has yet to be heard, but it’s unlikely that the House would change its position.
Virginia, one of 44 states that use solitary confinement, has 1,800 people in isolation, a sizable share of the estimated 25,000 people in solitary in the nation’s state and federal prisons.
As more becomes known about the effects of isolation — on inmate health, public safety and prison budgets — some states have begun to reconsider the practice. Among them is Texas, which, like Virginia, is known as a law-and-order state.
Lawyers and inmates say some of the state’s 40,000 prisoners, including some with mental health issues, have been kept in isolation for years, in one case for 14 years.
The Legal Aid Justice Center, which represents 12 inmates in isolation in Virginia, has requested an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, which recently launched a probe into a 1,550-bed Pennsylvania prison where inmates complain of long periods of isolation and a lack of mental health treatment.
A prison agency spokesman said that inmates are given breaks from “segregation” — the term the state uses to refer to solitary confinement — every 30 days or that their cases are reviewed regularly. But inmates and attorneys say prisons sometimes skip the review.