Public Comments for: SB1301 - Correctional facilities; use of isolated confinement.
Last Name: Sandoval Locality: Silver Spring

Solitary confinement is widely recognized as painful and difficult to endure. “It's an awful thing, solitary,” U.S. Senator John McCain wrote of his time in isolation as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” Research over the past few decades has documented the harmful effects of solitary confinement. Most of the research has reported adverse psychological and physical consequences of solitary confinement. In addition to increased psychiatric symptoms generally, suicide rates and incidents of self-harm are much higher for prisoners in solitary confinement. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who are in solitary confinement in New York City jails were nearly seven times more likely to harm themselves than those in general population, and that the effect was particularly pronounced for youth and people with severe mental illness. In California prisons in 2004, 73% of all suicides occurred in isolation units—though these units accounted for less than 10% of the state’s total prison population. In the Indiana Department of Corrections, the rate of suicides in segregation was almost three times that of other housing units. Solitary confinement is an egregious manifestation of the punishment paradigm that governs many state and national policies and practices throughout the criminal justice system. Solitary is a brutal practice that needs to be eliminated, and supporting SB301 would accomplish this goal, and Virginia would be among the first to do, blazing a path for others to follow.

Last Name: Jenkins-Snodgrass Organization: Interfaith Action for Human Rights Locality: Stafford

I am the chair of Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR). IAHR represents people of faith who educate and advocate in Maryland, DC, and Virginia for corrections systems that avoid unnecessarily punitive practices such as solitary confinement and that instead focus on rehabilitation and successful reentry. Support SB 1301, which effectively ends prolonged Isolation for both adults and juveniles in Virginia State Prisons. Please remove the bill clause and end prolonged Isolation in Virginia which is very costly. Ending prolonged Isolation will bring savings to the Department of Corrections. The Department's excessive impact statement must not be 'rubber-stamped' by this committee. I ask that you end an era of all agencies submitting exaggerated impact statements to 'stop' much-needed legislation. I also ask the committee not to reduce this effort to another study of the "pain" and inhumanity experienced by African Americans and people of color. Last week's impeachment trial, 7 Republicans reached across the aisle and broke ranks voting they're conscious. "We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is ripe to do right." It is time to end torture in Virginia State Prisons. Let's lead in Prison Reform, joining DELAWARE, NORTH DAKOTA, NJ, COLORADO, AND WASHINGTON TO ELIMINATE SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ADMINISTRATIVELY.

Last Name: Feinberg Organization: Interfaith Action for Human Rights Locality: Washington DC

I am the executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights (IAHR). IAHR represents people of faith who educate and advocate in Maryland, DC and Virginia for corrections systems that avoid unnecessarily punitive practices such as solitary confinement and that instead focus on rehabilitation and successful reentry. Please support SB 1301 that effectively ends prolonged isolation for both adults and juveniles in Virginia State Prisons. Prolonged Isolation for longer than 15 days was defined as an act of torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Moreover, numerous medical and psychological studies have determined that prolonged isolation (longer than 15 days) can damage the mental and physical health of a person. Correctional authorities can manage behavior without resorting to prolonged isolation. Yet, the State of Virginia routinely places incarcerated people in restrictive housing (prolonged isolation) for months and sometimes years. Recently, the State of Virginia settled two lawsuits brought on behalf of two different incarcerated people who were prolonged isolation (solitary confinement) for months and years. Prolonged isolation (solitary confinement) in Virginia is very costly. Ending prolonged isolation will bring savings to the Department of Corrections. Yet, the Department of Corrections has stated that SB1301 will cost many millions of additional dollars. The Department asserts that SB1301 will require the Department to hire many more mental health workers and other medical and psychological personnel. But the Department refuses to acknowledge that the savings from ending prolonged isolation can then be invested in more psychological, medical, and educational services for the incarcerated. SB1301 has been amended so that the Department will not be required to hire additional staff. However, we at IAHR believe the savings gained from ending prolonged isolation will enable the Department to hire more mental health workers and medical personnel to meet the needs of those so incarcerated. Finally, The Department of Corrections has implicitly acknowledged that prolonged isolation is not a desirable way to maintain security in prisons. Over the last few years, the Department has significantly reduced the numbers of people placed in restrictive housing or prolonged isolation while still holding many in prolonged isolation cells. SB1301 then will mandate the Department to finish its work by ending prolonged isolation (longer than 15 days) all together. It also then prevents any future Director of Corrections from re-instituting prolonged isolation. It is time to end torturing incarcerated people by isolating them for months and years. Please pass SB1301!

Last Name: Yarbrough Organization: Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation (SEAL) Locality: Norfolk

I am providing these comments as a member of the “Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation'' coalition (SEAL). We are a volunteer group of several hundred graduate students and early career researchers from universities across the Commonwealth, and our goal is to support science and evidence-based decision making in our government by providing unbiased scientific and technical advising services to the legislature. Our SEAL research team has determined that there is sufficient sound scientific backing to support the passage of SB-1301, to reduce the use of isolated confinement in our state correctional facilities by imposing clear and strict requirements governing its use. Extensive review of the research related to this multifaceted issue reveals (1) a lack of demonstrated efficacy beyond the exceptions provided for in this bill, (2) excess cost on the order of two to three times more than standard than standard housing options, and (3) substantial evidence supporting deleterious outcomes resulting from widespread use of isolated confinement with limited oversight. This comment provides further details about the physical health impacts which have been found to be associated with isolated confinement. Physical health repercussions of isolated confinement have received an increasing amount of attention in recent years. Isolated confinement has shown to lead to signs and symptoms such as; weight fluctuation, skin irritations, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal pain, among others. Inmates subjected to the conditions of isolated confinement experience 31% higher hypertension occurrence than those in standard housing of maximum security units, resulting in higher medical costs and loss of quality-adjusted life years. Previous studies have also revealed that the constant lack of natural sunlight experienced by inmates in isolated confinement is associated with vitamin D deficiency, a particular risk for older inmates with higher risks of falls and fractures. Taken together with the generally poor efficacy and excess costs associated with isolated confinement, this evidence supports the reduced use of isolated confinement in our state correctional facilities and is in alignment with the goals of this bill.

Last Name: Goggin Organization: Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation (SEAL) Locality: Charlottesville

I am providing these comments as a member of the “Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation'' coalition (SEAL). We are a volunteer group of several hundred graduate students and early career researchers from universities across the Commonwealth, and our goal is to support science and evidence-based decision making in our government by providing unbiased scientific and technical advising services to the legislature. Our SEAL research team has determined that there is sufficient sound scientific backing to support the passage of SB-1301, to reduce the use of isolated confinement in our state correctional facilities by imposing clear and strict requirements governing its use. Extensive review of the research related to this multifaceted issue reveals (1) a lack of demonstrated efficacy beyond the exceptions provided for in this bill, (2) excess cost on the order of two to three times more than standard than standard housing options, and (3) substantial evidence supporting deleterious outcomes resulting from widespread use of isolated confinement with limited oversight. This comment provides further details about isolated confinement’s adverse consequences on prisoner misconduct and recidivism. There is a modest and growing body of research examining the effects of exposure to isolated confinement on institutional safety or community safety as measured by further prisoner misconduct while incarcerated or recidivism upon release. We were unable to find a single study showing significant decreases in misconduct or recidivism associated with exposure to isolated confinement. Extensive review of this literature revealed findings ranging from isolated confinement having null (no) association with misconduct or recidivism to isolated confinement being associated with increased misconduct or recidivism. These effects vary across inmates dependent on a wide variety of offender characteristics. Specifically, recent research suggests that isolated confinement for mentally ill inmates and gang members leads to significant increases in subsequent misconduct while incarcerated. Taken together with the full body of research surrounding this issue , this evidence supports the reduced use of isolated confinement in our state correctional facilities and is in alignment with the goals of this bill.

Last Name: Mast Organization: Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation Coalition Locality: Charlottesville

I am providing these comments as a member of the “Scientists and Engineers Advising Legislation'' coalition (SEAL). We are a volunteer group of several hundred graduate students and early career researchers from universities across the Commonwealth, and our goal is to support science and evidence-based decision-making in our government by providing unbiased scientific and technical advising services to the legislature. Our SEAL research team has determined that there is sufficient sound scientific backing to support the passage of SB-1301, to reduce the use of isolated confinement in our state correctional facilities by imposing clear and strict requirements governing its use. Extensive review of the research related to this multifaceted issue reveals (1) a lack of demonstrated efficacy beyond the exceptions provided for in this bill, (2) excess cost on the order of two to three times more than standard than standard housing options, and (3) substantial evidence supporting deleterious outcomes resulting from widespread use of isolated confinement with limited oversight. This comment provides further details about isolated confinement’s adverse consequences on the mental health of inmates. Previous studies suggest that inmates in isolated confinement experience higher mortality rates due to non-natural causes, sensory deprivation, and psychological distress compared to inmates in the general population. Specifically, inmates in isolated confinement can experience: perceptual changes such as distortions, hallucinations, and derealization experiences, affective disturbances, disturbances of thought content, and problems with impulse control. Moreover, previous studies suggest that isolated confinement can cause physiological changes to the brain, such as a decrease in the size of the hippocampus, which controls emotion and learning, and can result in a decrease in total volume of neurons. More recent studies in incarcerated juveniles revealed that juveniles in isolated confinement can also experience a physiological change in the frontal lobe of their developing brain, which affects their ability to reason. Further, individuals recently released from prison who had a history of isolated confinement have been shown to be more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than those who had not been isolated; this finding highlights the traumatic experience of isolated confinement with potentially long-term emotional effects. It should also be noted that mentally ill inmates are known to be more likely to be placed in isolated confinement instead of receiving appropriate treatment for their condition. Given the above evidence, placing an inmate in isolation will likely only worsen their condition.

Last Name: Fegan Organization: Virginia Department of Corrections Locality: Richmond

Lois Fegan, Chief of Restrictive Housing for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Presence requested in case questions arise from the floor about SB1301 - Isolated Confinement.

Last Name: Agraharkar Organization: ACLU of Virginia Locality: Richmond, VA

SB 1301: On behalf of the ACLU of Virginia's 200,000 members and supporters, we strongly support SB 1301. We have become acutely aware through our own research; from incarcerated people who reach out to us; and through lawsuits we have filed, that far too many people have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of DOC's overreliance on solitary confinement. The impact of solitary on mental health is well known, and can be devastating and long-lasting. Researchers have found that social isolation, sensory deprivation, and enforced idleness is a toxic combination that can lead to a range of significant mental health symptoms and can themselves lead to behaviors that cause people to cycle in and out of segregation while incarcerated and then have difficulties re-entering society. A recent study in JAMA found that people who had spent “any time in restrictive housing” while incarcerated were “significantly more likely to die of all causes in the first year after their release than those who did not.”   This bill also improves public safety by pushing prisons to be more rehabilitative than they are today. The bill reimagines segregation as an emergency measure to stabilize someone who is a threat to safety in general population, instead of a default option for dealing with a range of behaviors including symptoms of mental health issues.   Finally, we have real concerns about the accuracy of the fiscal impact statement that VDOC provided to the Department of Planning and Budget. We know from speaking with people who have first-hand experience implementing similar reforms that they can yield substantial savings in the long-term by resulting in far fewer people being kept in isolation or in costly supermax facilities, and we know that holding people in solitary costs far more in staffing and close supervision than holding people in general population.   SB 1363: On behalf of the ACLU of Virginia and its supporters and members, we write to oppose SB 1363. ACLU-VA believes strongly that DOC is in need of effective and independent oversight, which is why we supported HB 2325. While we appreciate the similar intention behind SB 1363, we would rather the legislature pass nothing than a bill that will give the public the impression that DOC is subject to independent oversight when it is not; that will make the Board of Local and Regional Jails less effective at its current mission of jail oversight; and that will hinder efforts to create truly effective, independent civilian oversight next session. Because BLRJ is not entirely independent of DOJ, because this bill provides it with vague and limited oversight authority, and because this bill places too much responsibility on an under-staffed agency without adequate funding for real oversight, we oppose this bill.

Last Name: Horejsi Organization: Social Action Linking Together (SALT) Locality: Vienna

Sub Committee Chairman and members: On behalf of our 1300 SALT members I URGE YOU TO VOTE FOR SB1301 limiting and ending Solitary Confinement. SALT supports the reducing of solitary Confinement to an absolute minimum and legislation to ban it for the mentally ill. This practice of over use by VDOC is considered torture and fails to meet the constructive and rehabilitative purposes of criminals justice. Just consider the two most recent ACLU Court settlements against VDOC for a reported $115,000 to two inmates who spent almost 13 years each in Solitary Confinement An Analysis of the Fiscal Impact of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act in another state reports that Solitary confinement ending Save Money, Save Lives: An Analysis of the Fiscal Impact of the HALT Solitary Confinement Act in another state saves money & saves lives. Date: Nov 29, 2020 Author(s): Partnership for the Public Good Topic(s): Criminal Justice: General, Criminal Justice: Incarceration Report In New York State, a majority of state lawmakers support passage of the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term (HALT) Solitary Confinement Act (S.1623/A.2500), to restrict the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails in line with international human rights standards. Several local legislatures have endorsed the bill, including the Erie County Legislature. In “Save Money, Save Lives,” Partnership for the Public Good provides a fiscal analysis of the potential impact of the HALT Act which reveals that the opposite is true. Implementing the HALT Act can save New York State and local governments an estimated $132 million dollars annually, or $1.3 billion dollars over 10 years. People in prisons and jails are people, family members, and community members — they are not simply dollars and cents. Regardless of the fiscal impact, solitary confinement has long been recognized as torture and it should be ended. That said, the fiscal savings are yet another reason for States to act now and pass Solitary Confinement ending, Thank you for the opportunity to testify. john Horejsi, Coordinator, Social Action linking Together (SALT) jhorejsi@cox.net

Last Name: Stewart Organization: SOCIAL ACTION LINKING TOGETHER (SALT) Locality: Fairfax County

Please support SB 1301 Correctional facilities; use of isolated confinement that effectively ends prolonged isolation for both adults and juveniles in Virginia State Prisons. Prolonged Isolation for longer than 15 days was defined as an act of torture by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Moreover, numerous medical and psychological studies have determined that prolonged isolation (longer than 15 days) can damage the mental and physical health of a person. Correctional authorities can manage behavior without resorting to prolonged isolation. Documentation for supporting this legislation can be found by clicking on Solitary Confinement Fact Sheet: What Other States Have Done to Address the Cost and Cruelty which can be found on the SALT web page: https://s-a-l-t.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=325:what-other-states-have-done-to-address-the-cost-and-cruelty&catid=2:uncategorised. At least five states (Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Washington) have adopted similar policies proposed by SB 1301, either through legislation or administrative actions. These states have all shown an approximate neutral fiscal impact when they have reduced or eliminated the use of isolated confinement. Recent documentation of the cruelty of this practice in Virginia can be found in these two articles: 1) ARTICLE IN THE RICHMOND-TIMES DISPATCH--https://richmond.com/news/state-and-regional/settlement-reached-in-case-of-virginia-inmate-allegedly-held-in-solitary-for-more-than-12/article_93863eee-8b8e-55e9-bbbb-e7470265ea5d.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1. 2) A VIRGINIA PRISON HELD A MAN IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR OVER 600 DAYS--https://theappeal.org/a-virginia-prison-held-a-man-in-solitary-confinement-for-over-600-days/. Submitted on February 10, 2021, by Robert Stewart, SALT Public Affairs Coordinator

Last Name: Williams Locality: Henrico, VA. USA

I would ask that you support this bill!

End of Comments