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September 29, 2021

As part of a settlement agreement in Nicolas Reyes v. Harold Clarke, et al, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) will implement a new language access policy on October 1 in all its facilities.  

The policy was drafted in consultation with ACLU of Virginia attorneys, as mandated by the settlement, and seeks to provide people with limited English proficiency (LEP) meaningful access to all VDOC facilities, programs, and activities. VDOC was required by the court-enforced agreement to create and implement the language access policy on or before June 15, 2021. 

The ACLU of Virginia, along with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, represented Mr. Reyes in a lawsuit against VDOC officials. Mr. Reyes was held in solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison for more than 12 years, in part because he does not read or write in English and the prison refused to offer appropriate language services. VDOC uses a “Step-Down Program” – which requires people to complete a series of reading and writing assignments – to determine whether and when people held in solitary confinement can return to the general prison population, and VDOC failed to provide equal access for people with limited English proficiency.  

“Nicolas Reyes languished in a solitary cell for more than 12 years simply because he only speaks Spanish, and this new language access policy should prevent Virginia prison officials from imposing the same fate on others,” said Vishal Agraharkar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Virginia. “We’re glad to be able to secure not only some relief for Mr. Reyes, but also systemic change for everyone in Virginia prisons with limited English proficiency. This new language access policy is an important step to ensuring that all people who are incarcerated have equal opportunities while in prison.” 

In addition to the new policy, VDOC is required to designate one department-wide LEP Coordinator and one LEP Monitor for each separate facility. The coordinator and monitors will oversee the implementation of the language access policy. As of September 30, none of the positions were filled by VDOC, nor has the final language access policy been provided to the ACLU of Virginia. 

Case information is available here:  

The full settlement agreement is available here below.