RICHMOND, Va. — There’s a push at the Capitol to require the Virginia Department of Corrections to report more data about who’s in long-term restrictive housing or what advocates call solitary confinement.
There are three bills that have been submitted (HB 1642, SB 1085, and SB 1140), which would require VDOC to collect and report data on how many offenders are put in isolation, why there were placed there, for how long, as well as their demographics and mental health status.
Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass says her son Kevin Snodgrass’s demeanor changed after being separated from the rest of the inmate population at Red Onion State Prison.
“He hadn’t been touched in four years. So, when I touched him, he had a shiver,” Jenkins-Snodgrass said.
Snodgrass was released back into the rest of the prison population back in 2017. Jenkins-Snodgrass says more needs to be done to keep track of the condition of inmates, like her son.
The American Civil Liberties Union defines solitary confinement as the isolation of a person in a jail or prison cell for 22 to 24 hours a day with little human interaction or activities. A recent report from the ACLU of Virginia noted the average length of solitary stay in Virginia prisons is 2.7 years.
Lawmakers say there isn’t enough information available about the people put into solitary stay. The bills wouldn’t end solitary confinement, Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. David Marsden assured at a press conference Thursday, but the legislation would provide more transparency about the treatment of these offenders.
“It will also give us some information that is badly needed about the mental health needs and about the mental health staffing issues that are going on in the Department of Corrections,” Del. Hope (D-District 47) said.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Corrections says state prisons don’t practice solitary confinement, but there are 62 inmates currently in what they call long-term restrictive housing.
“Offenders in long-term restrictive housing are segregated from the general inmate population for their safety and/or the safety of others, but they still interact with counselors, security staff, medical staff, and others, and have access to books, music and phone calls,” Lisa Kinney, the Director of Communications for VDOCS, said.
Starting with the 2018 calendar year quarterly reports, Kinney says the number of inmates in long-term and short-term restrictive housing as well as their sex, race and mental health code, will be included in data shared with the Governor and General Assembly.
“We devote vital resources to monitoring and reporting information on our offender populations,” Kinney added.
Lawmakers and families say more still needs to be done.
“To make sure that those that are in there are not suffering needlessly,” Del. Hope said.
Governor Ralph Northam announced last night during his State of the Commonwealth Address that Virginia maintained for a third year in a row the lowest re-incarceration rate in the country.