The Washington Post

Justice considers whether to investigate Red Onion prison

Red Onion State Prison in Wise County, Va. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)

But it wasn’t exactly what they wanted to hear.

Justice officials wrote in a letter last week that the department will continue to look into the issue at Red Onion State Prison before making a decision.

“The Department is aware of the issue of prisoners in “supermax” facilities, such as Red Onion State Prison,’’ Intergovernmental Liaison Alexa Chappel wrote. “The Special Litigation Section will carefully consider the information you provided, along with other information we have and may receive, to determine whether a pattern of practice investigation of the use of isolation at Red Onion State Prison or the Virginia DOC generally is warranted.’’

Some members of the Virginia General Assembly and human rights groups have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the use of solitary confinement at Red Onion.

Red Onion, built on a mountain about 400 miles from Richmond, isolates more inmates than any other facility in the state — nearly 500 of the state’s 1,700. Inmates are kept in isolation for disciplinary problems, such as assaulting other prisoners or having drugs, or for protection, officials said.

“I'm delighted the Department of Justice is taking the isolation of prisoners seriously but actions speak louder than words,’’ said Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington), who toured the facility and wrote to Justice.  “It’s very clear to me that segregating prisoners with serious mental illness for multiple years is a violation of their constitutional rights. I urge Justice to take a more active role in limiting segregation in our nation’s prisons, especially those with a serious mental illness.”



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