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December 21, 2018

The following statement is being released on behalf of the ACLU of Virginia, NAACP Portsmouth, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Virginia, and Mental Health America of Virginia:

"When our organizations first asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Hampton Roads Regional Jail in June 2016, we did so based upon the highest level of concern and alarm over the conditions, treatment and safety of the more than 1,100 people being held there. The DOJ report released Wednesday after two years of review confirms and validates our concerns to a greater degree than we could have imagined, and we are convinced that the systemic problems and harms being experienced there are worse still than we know.

"According to the report, the jail provides woefully inadequate and unconstitutional medical and mental health care to prisoners, including by subjecting people with serious mental illness to prolonged solitary confinement. That treatment has resulted in serious harm and even death to people incarcerated at HRRJ.

"Today, we call upon HRRJ Superintendent David Hackworth and the regional board that oversees the facility to address the concerns we identified, and which the DOJ validated, immediately and with the highest degree of urgency. We ask the superintendent and board to do the following without delay:

  • "Release with full transparency any and all measures that have been taken to improve conditions at the jail since December 2016, particularly those pertaining to availability of medical treatment, handling of persons with serious mental illness, the practice of solitary confinement, and the hiring issues that have long plagued HRRJ;
  • "Announce what short-term remedial steps and long-term strategies have been and will be taken to comply with the 41 minimal recommendations in the DOJ report, including what additional resources are needed to implement those steps; and
  • "Meet with representatives of the advocacy community, including the ACLU of Virginia, the NAACP, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Virginia, and Mental Health America Virginia, all of which desire to serve as resources in development of policies and procedures moving forward to aid those suffering under unconstitutional treatment at HRRJ.

"Further, we call upon Gov. Ralph Northam to direct the Virginia Board of Corrections, which develops and enforces accreditation standards for local and regional jails, to adopt (as emergency rules) new standards relating to the issues outlined in the DOJ report. We believe strongly that those issues are in no way limited to HRRJ, and in fact may be far worse in some of Virginia’s most outdated, overcrowded, underfunded and understaffed local jails. We further implore the governor to support a budget amendment that would allocate significant resources toward diversion and treatment programs to assist people with mental illness who need help rather than incarceration, denial of medical treatment, and detention in inhumane solitary conditions. It is the Commonwealth’s duty to develop adequate oversight and enforcement mechanisms to root out inhumane and unconstitutional jail conditions wherever they lie, and this report demonstrates it has failed in that regard.

"In addition, we are highly concerned about these same issues and practices in our state prisons, particularly pertaining to detention of people with mental illness in solitary confinement. We support passage of House Bill 1642, sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope, and Senate Bill 1085, sponsored by Sen. David Marsden, that would require the Virginia Department of Corrections to collect data on its practice of solitary confinement and submit an annual report to the governor and legislature."