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Solitary Confinment Lawsuit Filed

ACLU-VA Sues to End Solitary Confinement in Two Virginia Prisons

May 06, 2019 - 2:55 pm
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Richmond, VA _  The ACLU of Virginia, in collaboration with global law firm White & Case LLP, has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) seeking to end the practice of solitary confinement in two of  the state's prisons.

 

The ACLU, in a statement, says the suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of people who have "suffered in torturous conditions, some for decades", at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge state prisons. Both facilities are super maximum-security prisons located in the far southwest corner of the state.

 

 The suit alleges that solitary confinement, the practice of keeping someone alone in a small space for 22 hours or more per day with little to no stimulation or human contact, is known to cause mental and physical deterioration in as little as 10 days.  It says lengths of stay in solitary confinement of the 12 named plaintiffs in the case range from two to 24 years.

 

The lawsuit describes what it calls VDOC’s use of a "complex, arbitrary system", known as the Step-Down Program, purportedly intended to help people work their way out of solitary. The lawsuit alleges that in practice, the Step-Down Program has kept hundreds of people in solitary confinement at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge. The lawsuit further alleges that officials administer the program in violation of the constitutional rights of those being held and with indifference to the suffering and harm being inflicted.

 

“Lack of clarity about length of time it takes to progress out of solitary, and no meaningful ability for many people to get out, amounts to permanent solitary confinement,” said ACLU-VA Senior Staff Attorney Vishal Agraharkar. “VDOC must be held accountable and forced to stop enacting these inhumane practices.”

 

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that VDOC built Red Onion and Wallens Ridge, and instituted the Step-Down Program, after settling a previous class-action lawsuit about solitary confinement at Mecklenburg Correctional Center, which closed in 2012. In the 1984 settlement agreement, the ACLU alleges that VDOC promised never again to reinstate the type of program or conditions at Mecklenburg; yet did so and continues to do so at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge in violation of its legal obligations under the settlement agreement.

 

The lawsuit alleges under VDOC’s current Step-Down Program, people who are subjectively classified by correctional officers as being a security risk based on vague criteria and without due process may be placed in solitary confinement, and that once there, it is nearly impossible for many to navigate the labyrinth of requirements to be released into general population.

 

The lawsuit seeks to end the Step-Down Program, cease the practice of long-term solitary confinement at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge, and appoint a special master to bring VDOC’s prisons into compliance. It also seeks to award the plaintiffs compensatory damages.