Recent deaths are latest in long history of abuses at overcrowded city facilityRichmond, VA – The ACLU of Virginia today asked the United States Department of Justice to launch an investigation into conditions that recently led to at least one confirmed, and possibly two, deaths from heat exhaustion at the Richmond City Jail.
In a letter faxed to DOJ earlier today, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis informs Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez that the Richmond City Jail has been plagued by prisoner abuses and overcrowded conditions for many years. With the letter, Willis includes a list of news articles chronicling problems at the jail and references the numerous complaints the ACLU has received from inmates over the last five years.
The ACLU is asking Perez to proceed under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, a federal law that authorizes DOJ to investigate and sue jails and prisons that violate the Constitution or other federal laws that protects prisoners’ rights.
“Anyone who has been around Richmond for the last twenty years knows that the unbearably appalling conditions at the jail are not new and that the City has failed to respond in any meaningful way to the multitude of problems there,” said Willis. “The talk about change at the jail has been constant, but that’s not enough. It’s time for the federal government to intervene.”
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, two inmates, Kerry Wayne Bennett and Grant R. Sleeper, recently died at the jail. Sleeper’s death was due to heat exhaustion. The cause of Bennett’s death is still under investigation.
Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. has publicly acknowledged that temperatures in the un-air-conditioned jail can reach 120 degrees and that it is severely overcrowded.
“One of the most important measures of a civilized society is how it treats institutionalized persons,” added Willis. “The Constitution flatly forbids cruel and unusual punishment because it has no place in our criminal justice system. By any measure, the punishing conditions at the Richmond City Jail are cruel and unusual. We should not be waiting for more deaths before taking action.”
Willis’s letter to Perez can be found online at: http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/20100706RichmondJailDOJletter.pdf