Solitary confinement is torture. In American prisons, more than 50,000 people suffer in long-term solitary confinement, many with no clear expectation of release into general population.
Members of the Virginia Advocacy Group (VAG), the Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR) and advocacy partners met today with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration to present a petition of nearly 20,000 signatures gathered in the case of Kevin Snodgrass, a Virginia prison inmate housed in isolation for almost four years. Research has found the cruelty of isolation has long-term psychological and psychosocial effects on inmates, including despondency, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.
The group advocated at the meeting for prisoners with mental illness and other disabilities, related the IAHR’s position condemning solitary confinement in Virginia, and urged the administration to establish guidelines for its use modeled after the U.S. Department of Justice’s Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing. The group also addressed the lack of structure and clarity of the “Step Down Program”.
Specifically, VAG asked the governor, through his representatives, to:
- Limit the use of solitary confinement to when it is absolutely necessary and other alternatives are unavailable;
- Provide prisoners in solitary confinement with a written plan for returning to less restrictive conditions as soon as possible; and
- Stop placing inmates with serious mental illness or mental, physical or intellectual disabilities in solitary confinement.
Collectively, the Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR), National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Virginia Council of Churches (VCC), Social Action Linking Together (SALT), the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU-VA) and Virginia CURE have been advocating for reform as part of their long-standing mission to eradicate solitary confinement.
Virginia Advocacy Group meeting attendees included:
- Charles Feinberg, executive director IAHR;
- Gay Gardner, secretary, IAHR;
- Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, mother of Kevin D. Snodgrass #1203403, Board Member, IAHR;
- Rev. Dr. Jonathan Barton, general minister, VCC;
- Bill Farrar, director of strategic communications, ACLU-VA; and
- Carla Peterson, director, Virginia CURE.
Representatives of the governor’s administration present at the meeting included Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, Deputy Secretary Victoria Cochran, Policy Director Jennie O’Holleran, and Counsel to the Governor Carlos Hopkins.
“The bottom line for us is that prisons and jails have to become transparent so that their leaders can be held accountable,” said IAHR Executive Director Rabbi Charles Feinberg.
“Solitary confinement is a cruel, ineffective and costly practice that causes great harm to the individuals who are subjected to it while failing to make incarcerated people, prisons or the communities to which inmates eventually are released any safer,” said ACLU-VA Director of Strategic Communications Bill Farrar.
“In the case of my son, Kevin Snodgrass, the efforts of VAG and advocacy partners led to global support of his petition, but for most others there is no clarity on what guidelines are set forth that would ensure proper treatment of inmates,” said Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass. “In many cases prisoners have been in solitary confinement for decades.”