FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2023
Virginia passes first step in reforming solitary confinement.
Makes modest historic step in right direction for limiting excessive use of solitary confinement.
RICHMOND, Va – On Saturday, February 25, 2023, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill to reform the Department of Corrections’ use of solitary confinement. The bill is a modest first step to limit the excessive use of solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons. The conference report bill rolled SB 887, patroned by Senator Joe Morrissey, into HB 2487, patroned by Delegate Davis. The bill will now be sent to the Governor.
“This bill does not cover everything we’d like, but it sends a strong message that legislators want to see changes,” said Salim Khalfani, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s (VICPP’s) Criminal Justice Reform Organizer. “We are grateful to Delegate Davis and Senator Morrissey for helping Virginia take the first step forward. Their unwavering commitment to doing what’s right, their sense of responsibility to Virginians’ grievances, and their bravery in treading forward even when faced with obstacles – These are the reasons that history was just made in Virginia.”
The bill requires that the Department of Corrections provide to people who are incarcerated:
- Four hours a day out of cell for people placed in “restorative housing” (which is the term currently being used by Virginia for isolation or solitary confinement), with some exceptions,
- A medical and mental health evaluation within one working day of being placed in isolation or solitary confinement,
- A defined policy for transitioning out of isolation,
- A weekly evaluation and report placed in the person’s file on why a less restrictive setting is not an option, and
- Procedures for self-selection in and out of “restorative housing.”
This bill is the first time the General Assembly has provided guidance to the Department of Corrections on its use of solitary confinement.
“We are grateful to the thousands of family members of those incarcerated, formerly incarcerated persons, and the unrelenting advocates, including many prison ministry groups and Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocates who pushed for these reforms,” said Khalfani. “Change takes time, and we will continue advocating justice in Virginia.”
Advocates want and will continue to seek:
- A defined limit of no more than 15 days that someone can involuntarily be in isolation or solitary confinement (regardless of terminology being used to define isolation at any time), with very modest exceptions. More than 15 days in isolation is defined as torture by the United Nations.
- Fewer exceptions for the use of isolation or solitary confinement. The current bill has broad exceptions that advocates feel could be abused by the Department of Corrections.
- A policy to notify family members when facilities are in lockdown. Currently, families simply stop hearing from their loved ones and are concerned about their welfare.
- A broader definition of isolation, because the Department of Corrections has admittedly routinely changed the name for what it calls the use of solitary confinement. It is currently called “restorative housing.”
VICPP engages people of faith and goodwill in advocating criminal justice reform and other social justice issues. The work includes grassroots advocacy in every district in the Commonwealth, strong educational resources, and a professional lobbying team that is at the General Assembly daily.
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The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy advocates economic, racial, and social justice in Virginia’s policies and practices through education, prayer, and action. VICPP is a non-partisan coalition of 750 faith communities working for a more just society.
Director of Communications
Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy