Public Comments for 02/24/2022 Public Safety - Subcommittee #2
SB108 - Correctional facilities; DOC to convene work group to study use of restorative housing.
I SUPPORT SB108 and 581. I SUPPORT SB 441.
The JCRC supports SB108 as it is presented and oppose turning its proposals into a study. The devastating mental health effects of solitary confinement are already well known and do not need to be studied any further. Additionally, VDOC does not have any meaningful independent oversight, so we do not have faith that a study would be helpful or meaningful. The JCRC is the public affairs arm of the organized Jewish community, supporting and representing the dozens of synagogues, day schools community centers and social service agencies located in and providing services in Northern Virginia. Our work and advocacy is grounded in core Jewish values: justice, repentance, and the preservation of human life. Conditions of confinement must be humane. Yet, whether we refer to it as solitary confinement, isolation or restrictive housing, we know that the practice of keeping an individual in a one-person cell with no opportunities for meaningful human interaction for more than 14 days causes long term harm to a prisoner’s mental and physical health, and simply put, is torture. It is not only the prisoner injured by this practice. Rather, our system of corrections has failed all of us if it results in individuals who have been so harmed by the lack of adequate human interaction that upon release, they are incapable of productive participation in society. For these reasons, the JCRC supports and asks you to vote yes on SB108 as presented.
We’re here because the previous administration wanted to take baby steps and kick the matter of ending solitary confinement down the road. Over the years, our bill was solely written by the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement and its partners. Today’s SB 108 contains extensive input from the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC). The Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement and VDOC worked together and reviewed each bill line item. Previously the House ordered a study to highlight the pros and cons of ending solitary confinement in Virginia. The study recommendation was favorable to ending solitary confinement. VDOC’s SB 108 impact statement is an estimated 20 million dollars less than the last bill submission. In addition, the Senate has passed a bill to end solitary confinement for two consecutive sessions. House committee members support SB 108 and vote “YEA.” A second study is not necessary, see attachment.
Solitary confinement should be prohibited except for cases as spelled out in the legislation. This type of treatment for extended period is debilitating mentally and physically. Try to imagine the situation that would justify keeping someone in a confined area for 20 hours a day for an adult and 17 hours a day fo a juvenile for 15 days. There are many case of longer such confinements. Prolonged solitary confinement would seem to be better described as torture. Please support SB 108 to end solitary confinement.
Please vote for SB 108. Do not kill this bill by turning it into an unnecessary study, in which the Department of Corrections would undoubtedly be given undue influence over the methodology and outcome. We know more than enough about the impact of prolonged solitary confinement. There are reams of studies documenting the damage it does to human brains and psyches. SB 108 would, at long last, bring Virginia closer to compliance with fundamental human rights standards by limiting the length of time incarcerated people could be kept in solitary confinement, which the Department of Corrections has labeled with ever more Orwellian euphemisms (first "segregation" then "restrictive housing" and now "restorative housing"). There is nothing restorative or rehabilitative about locking someone in a cell the size of a parking space for most of every day. It is an abusive practice that is not part of anyone's sentence, and it is not a humane substitute for protective custody.
Vote to approve SB 108 to dismantle and delete and destroy solitary confinement in VA . The situation creates torture and horrific living conditions for inmates who are left there to die or become mentally weakened.
The passing of this bill is critical to the safety and mental health of all people. There are documented studies on the damaging effects solitary Confinement causes. Why waste time in saving lives by asking for more proof. The proof is in the number of suicides committed in confinement.
The use of extended solitary confinement is cruel punishment. The impact it has on a person's mental health can be debilitating. ALL people need human touch and interaction. The United States has identified several punishments and restricted or banned their use on terrorists because they are inhumane. Solitary Confinement falls into that category. Please ban the use of this inhumane punishment
I urge you and the committee of public safety to support SB 108 and solitary confinement reform. Solitary confinement is very expensive and there is little or no evidence that shows that solitary confinement makes prisons safer. Virginia Department of Corrections reported that 26 percent of prisoners have mental health issues and that the stress from solitary confinement causes more severe mental issues.
Good morning, Delegates; This legislation ends the unsafe practice of long-term solitary confinement by limiting the amount of days a person can be isolated to a maximum of 15 days. According to the United Nations and numerous other studies, confinement after 15 days is considered torture because that is when people feel negative mental and physical affects. I ask that you VOTE YES for SB108 that will change incarceration experience from torturous to teachable. The bill requires more transparency in the use of solitary confinement in Virginia along with implementing prosocial programming. This will change the current practice that has no beneficial programming in place, which poses a threat to public safety by undermining the chances of incarcerated people successfully reentering our communities. Please Vote YES for SB 108. Thank you.
Chairperson & Members: SB 108 passed by the Senate prohibits the use of isolated confinement in correctional facilities that effectively ends prolonged isolation for both adults and juveniles in Virginia state prisons. The House needs to join with the Senate to pass this bill during the closing days of this session. 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. Recent documentation of the cruelty of this practice in Virginia found in two high cost court settlement agreements documenting and challenging treatment of a person with limited English proficiency (LEP) held in solitary confinement for 13 years and another held in Solitary for 600 days. Surely, Correctional authorities can manage behavior without resorting to costly prolonged isolation. The experience of many other states make it clear that Correctional authorities can manage behavior without resorting to prolonged isolation. Five states (Colorado, Delaware, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Washington) have adopted similar policies, either through legislation or administrative actions. These states have all shown that it is safe and that there is an approximate neutral fiscal impact when they have reduced or eliminated the use of isolated confinement. Additionally, State prisons like Mississippi not only report $8 million savings but more importantly it is reported, violence within Mississippi prisons and recidivism rate upon release are both down, with violence dropping nearly 70 percent. Additionally there is ample evidence that it is the most costly form of incarceration—most state reporting at least twice as costly. Above all, why should we care? Most people in prison will return to society one day; they should not emerge from prison worse than when they went in because of the harmful impact of solitary confinement. Support SB 108 to end the practice of torturing Virginian’s in our prisons. John Horejsi, Coordinator Social Action Linking Together (SALT) 9610 Counsellor Dr., NW Vienna, VA 22181 email@example.com
Delegates, I am writing to ask you to vote in favor of SB108 to prohibit the use of solitary confinement in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Solitary confinement is both costly and ineffective at promoting safety in correctional facilities. According to the Virginia Interfaith Center, The Virginia Department of Corrections reported that 26 percent of prisoners have mental health issues; solitary confinement can cause and exacerbate mental health issues. Other states, including New Jersey and New York, have successfully prohibited or restricted the use of solitary confinement, and Virginia should be next. Solitary confinement is torture. No incarcerated individual should be submitted to the cruel punishment of isolation. Virginia should help set the precedent for prioritizing mental health and human rights within correctional facilities. On behalf of Students for Equity and Reform in Virginia (SERV) at the University of Virginia, I ask that you vote in favor of SB 108 to prohibit solitary confinement in Virginia’s correctional facilities.
My name is Rabbi Charles Feinberg, the executive director of Interfaith Action for Human Rights which 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. I am asking you to support SB108 that will limit long-term solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons to no more than 15 consecutive days within a 60-day period. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture isolating a person for more than 15 consecutive days for 20 plus hours a day is considered an act of torture. Moreover, many medical and psychological studies have shown that prolonged isolation can cause serious physical and psychological illness. In 2001-2019, there were 11 suicides per 100,000 incarcerated individuals in Virginia’s federal and state prisons. Furthermore, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) settled two lawsuits in 2021 due to the harmful physical and psychological effects an incarcerated person suffered while in long-term isolation. Not only is solitary confinement inhumane, but this practice is putting a dent in Virginia’s budget. Research shows that solitary confinement increases states’ budgets. Alternatively, those states which have limited this practice have saved significant amount of money. For example, as reported by ACLU in “Paying the Price for Solitary Confinement,” Mississippi saved $8 million each year after 2010 and Illinois saved $26 million after 2013. Similarly, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation budget in 2016-2017 was significantly reduced by $28 million. This research indicates that Virginia can also save money long-term once the use of solitary confinement is limited. There are alternatives to solitary confinement that will not endanger staff or other incarcerated persons. Individuals who pose threats to others can be transferred to a different housing unit at the same security level or a higher security level prison. Individuals who fear for their safety can be transferred away from the person or group who are threatening them. Social programming and psychological therapy can be used to address behavioral concerns more effectively than isolating incarcerated people in a cell the size of a parking space. As a representative of hundreds of Virginia residents, I ask you to support SB108 to end torture in Virginia prisons. The bill mandates the implementation of social programming along with greater transparency. Passing SB108 will enhance public safety by improving the chances of incarcerated people to successfully reenter their community. Please support SB108 when it comes before you.
SALT supports the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement legislation, SB 108, reducing the use of solitary confinement in Virginia to an absolute minimum and banning its use for those suffering from mental and physical disabilities. This practice by Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) is well documented by the recently passed data reporting law (HB 1284) requiring VADOC to Report Data on Solitary Confinement use. SALT, in solidarity with the United Nations, religious leaders nationwide and internationally, and the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement, supports what should be the aim of the penal system, namely rehabilitation and successful reentry of the incarcerated into society after release. SALT, in agreement with many faith communities and health professionals, views the excessive use of solitary confinement to be torture, and fails to meet the “constructive and rehabilitative purpose” of criminal justice as set forth in statements by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000; the UN Standard Minimum Rules on the Treatment of Prisoners; and the US Justice Department. In the attached PDF document, you will find fact sheets developed by SALT providing reasons for supporting SB 108. In solidarity with the Virginia ACLU, SALT supports this bill, SB 108 as is, and we oppose turning this into a study because the devastating mental health effects of solitary confinement are already well known and do not need to be studied any further. Additionally, because VDOC does not have any meaningful independent oversight, we do not have faith that a study would be helpful or meaningful. We would rather no study than one that is undertaken without significant resources, powers, and total independence from the DOC. We are also in solidarity with Pope Francis, who has this to say: “One form of torture is sometimes applied by imprisonment in maximum-security prisons. With the motive of providing greater security to the community or special treatment for certain categories of prisoners, its main feature is none other than the isolation. As demonstrated by studies carried out by different human rights bodies, the lack of sensory stimuli, the complete lack of communication and the lack of contact with other human beings, causes physical and emotional suffering such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, and weight loss, and significantly increases the chances of suicide.”
As chair of the ValleyJustice coalition and as a licensed professional counselor, I am especially concerned about effects of the mental health of persons already stressed by long years of confinement in our prisons. According to the VDOC's own mission statement, "We are in the business of helping people to be better by safely providing effective incarceration, supervision and evidence-based re-entry services to inmates and supervisees," and its vision statement is "A premier correctional organization where all individuals achieve their full potential." Are we really serious about correcting or will we continue to inflict ever harsher forms of punishment?
I am Kathleen Temple. I have lived for decades in Rockingham County. I am proud to work with the Coalition Against Solitary Confinement, the [Shenandoah] Valley Justice Coalition, and Mennonite faith communities as we together make Virginia a more beautiful, loving, and humane place for all of us. Thank you to my own Delegate Tony Wilt, and thank you to our Legislature for the opportunity to share my story with the House of Delegates. Some years ago when I was working as a community volunteer in our local jail, I was responsible for sending persons into solitary confinement where they would have to suffer for a period of time with no human interaction. I have since come to understand that solitary confinement (by whatever appellation) is TORTURE. I am ashamed to have subjected human beings to such treatment. Now, understanding the profound violation which solitary confinement is, I would not subject an animal to such conditions, much less a human being. Senate Bill 108 limits solitary confinement and is thus an important step toward developing humane and healing practices. I believe it is time to curb the barbaric practice of solitary confinement! I call on the Virginia House of Delegates to pass SB 108 now.
Please reform the use of solitary confinement in Virginia. As a former mental health worker, I can vouch for the traumatizing affects of isolation that I saw in people who had experienced it. Mental Health Impact: Inmates who experience isolation are considerably more likely to develop mental health issues than those in the general prison population. The Virginia Department of Corrections reported that 26 percent of prisoners have mental health issues. Prisoners in solitary confinement are diagnosed with a range of disorders such as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder because of abuse, manic depression, and schizophrenia amid other mental illnesses. Since prison are the de facto psychiatric care for many of our citizens, we should use the standards of care which treatment facilities employ. Is our intent to help people regain health and be able to rejoin society, or to further harm them?
I regard solitary confinement as a cruel kind of torture. As a clinical psychologist, I am concerned about them well-documented short and long-term effects of it, as well as the moral injury to those who impose it. I hope you will vote for legislation ending solitary confinement and urge your colleagues to do so. Thank you so much for your interest in this legislation. Pete Bloom, Ph.D.
Chair Batten and members of Public Safety Subcommittee #2, I respectfully urge you to vote IN FAVOR of SB 108 to reform the use of isolated (solitary) confinement in Virginia correctional facilities. The routine use of solitary confinement is a practice that is dehumanizing and can lead to mental illness. SB 108 would require Virginia prisons to consider humane alternatives before using a practice that is widely thought to be torture in excess of 15 days. There is little evidence that its use makes prisons safer. Passage of SB 108 will make Virginia a more just and humane society. I urge members of the subcommittee to vote IN FAVOR of SB 108. Thank you.
Please recommend SB108 for passage. Long term solitary confinement is psychological damaging to the point that internationally it is considered torture. Use of solitary confinement, by whatever euphemistic name, should be very limited. Local sheriffs have told us that the majority of their inmates have psychological problems. Prison should not make inmates even less capable of being productive citizens on release. Thank you for giving this bill your time and attention.
From a wife who’s husband has been in segregation for 6 months now due to a fight, I am asking you to vote “YES” to end the torture of extended solitary confinement in Virginia. Not only is it hard on the men and women placed in segregation but it’s hard on the family as well. I speak to my husband twice (20 minutes) a week and am allowed one video visit. Our son is in school most of the time his dad is allowed to call so he misses most of the phone calls. This kind of treatment needs to end. Thank you, Jennifer Wallace
SB361 - Marcus alert system; participation in the system is optional for localities, etc.
I am writing as a concerned citizen who lives in the rural, less populated community of Floyd, VA and whose family struggles everyday with the lived experience of Serious Mental Illness, to voice my opposition to SB 361 – the Marcus Alert Optional bill . I am opposed to any amendments to the Marcus-David Peters Act which compromise its integrity and ability to serve all of the citizens of Virginia in an equitable and just fashion. Amending the Marcus Alert by making participation optional, based on a localities’ population size, is seemingly arbitrary and serves to perpetuate historic patterns of disenfranchisement and discrimination against rural populations. The proposed changes effectively exclude the one-half of Virginia’s residents from the care they have a right to. Our rural populations are suffering extremely high numbers of addiction and mental illness and are the equally victims of a broken system with its over-reliance on law enforcement intervention which lead to seclusion, restraint and defacto punishment, instead of being treated in a humane and dignified manner as outlined in the Marcus Alert. I ask you, are the struggles that my family and many, many, others in less populated areas of the state, face daily, by living with the reality of mental illness and addiction less real or deserving than those living in more populated area? Please vote no on SB 361. Jon McNamara Floyd, VA
SB441 - Correctional facilities, state; fees associated with inmates.
I SUPPORT SB108 and 581. I SUPPORT SB 441.
SB581 - Correctional facilities, local and regional; fees charged to inmates.
I SUPPORT SB108 and 581. I SUPPORT SB 441.
SB741 - Facial recognition technology; authorized uses.
This comment is to add support for this bill which covers "Facial Recognition" technology.
SB49 - Critically missing adult; expands definition, receipt of reports.