Taking Action

Advocacy groups, families dispute claim that Virginia has ended ‘restrictive housing’ in state prisons

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia Department of Corrections announced last week it had ended “restrictive housing.” But several advocacy groups, inmates and their families said the DOC is lying and many are still being thrown into solitary confinement.

Hattie Covington said her son Jovan has been put in the hole at Greensville Correctional Center with no windows in addition to excessive heat and rats.

“My son is going through some things that no one should go through,” she said.

When the Virginia Department of Corrections announced it had ended what it calls ‘restrictive housing,’ Covington called the prison.

“I called down there the same day and they told me my son was still in there,” Covington said.

Natasha White with the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement described the interaction as “verbal gymnastics.”

White said no matter what name the DOC gives it, “long-term restrictive housing, risk management accountability system, administrative segregation,” solitary confinement is abusive and is still happening in Virginia prisons.

Studies have shown solitary confinement can lead to serious mental and physical health complications like depression, anxiety, hypertension and vision loss.

“These people don’t care. They stood up and tell us one thing but they are still doing the same thing behind closed doors,” Covington said.

The state’s Department of Corrections doubled down this week on claims that they have eliminated the use of “restrictive housing.”

“By offering a minimum of four hours of out-of-cell time each day to all inmates in these programs, the Department no longer operates anything that meets the American Correctional Association definition of restrictive housing,” a DOC spokesperson said in a statement.

Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) also disputes DOC’s claims that “restrictive housing” has stopped, telling 8News his office “regularly received phone calls” about the issue. 8News has also heard complaints about the DOC’s use of solitary confinement from inmates and their families.

Virginia recently settled a lawsuit with Nicolas Reyes, who said he developed psychological problems after spending 12 years in solitary confinement. The settlement cost taxpayers $115,000.

White shared a prisoner’s letter describing his recent experience while in solitary confinement in a Virginia prison. “I was in a cold filthy freezing cell,” White read from the letter. “The toilet didn’t work and it had days old feces in it.”

In the meantime, the DOC admits it will start a program called “restorative housing,” which are “bed assignments operated under maximum security regulations.

You can read the full statement from the Virginia Department of Corrections below:

“For many years now, Virginia has been a leader in the national reform effort to decrease or eliminate restrictive housing for inmates. Thanks to the tremendous efforts and creativity of line staff, counselors, unit managers, administrators and many others in the field, we have now eliminated the use of restrictive housing. By offering a minimum of four hours of out-of-cell time each day to all inmates in these programs, the Department no longer operates anything that meets the American Correctional Association definition of restrictive housing.

“Major changes began in the fall of 2011, and in 2014 the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 184 “commending the Virginia Department of Corrections for its outstanding leadership and dedication to public safety in administering the Step Down program,” a program we created to give high-risk offenders the opportunity to work their way out of restrictive housing and into the general prison population. 

“Our reform efforts resulted last week in the Council of State Governments’ Southern Legislative Conference awarding the Virginia DOC the 2021 State Transformation in Action Recognition (STAR) award for the Department’s Secure Diversionary Treatment Program for inmates with a serious mental illness.

“The Secure Diversionary Treatment Program addresses a critical need by safely managing the increasing population of inmates with a serious mental illness in the criminal justice system. The program was developed to divert inmates with a serious mental illness who are at risk of engaging in severe and disruptive incidents from a restrictive housing setting into a program where their unique needs are met and supported.

“By diverting these inmates into a treatment-focused environment, dedicated staff can provide opportunities for participants to manage their mental illness, improve pro-social metrics, and eventually thrive in the general population of the correctional facility or in the community upon release.”

Lisa Kinney, Virginia DOC director of communications

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

StormTracker 8

Trending Stories

More Trending Stories

Local Events