WISE COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Nicolas Reyes, has spent most of the last 13 years in solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County. Reyes’s was sentenced to 47 years behind bars for murder but his extended time in solitary confinement has more to do with a language barrier than the crime that sent him to prison.
The ACLU, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and a team of pro bono lawyers stepped in to end Reyes time in solitary confinement and change the way similar situations are handled.
Reyes is from El Salvador and has been identified as someone with Limited English Proficiency. According to the ACLU he did not have a viable pathway out of solitary confinement because he can not read, write or speak English.
“Mr. Reyes has suffered unnecessarily for more than a decade in conditions no one should ever have to endure,” said Maggie Filler, an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center. “He lived in a tiny room the size of a bathroom and ate meals in the same space where he used the toilet and slept at night, for 24 hours a day. On the few occasions when he left his cell to go to a recreation cell or to shower, he was forced to submit to a strip search and was marched out of his cell in shackles. All this despite the fact that he posed no threat to the safety of the prison.
The settlement of the federal case brought against the Virginia Department of Corrections for the treatment of Reyes will lead to the adoption of a “comprehensive, department-wide policy to provide access to interpretation and translation services for people incarcerated in its facilities.
“We hope that VDOC will view this as an opportunity to do right by Mr. Reyes and by so many others and create a language access policy that will be a model for other correctional agencies,” said Vishal Agraharkar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Virginia.
Following the settlement Reyes will also receive restoration of good-time credits, an interpreter for all hearing and medical visits, a hearing within 6 months to determine if he can move to a lower-level facility closer to family, a monetary reward of $115,000 to compensate for the time in confinement and at least one year in single-cell housing to help him transition.