ACLU of VA Letter to Governor McAuliffe re Solitary Confinement of Juveniles Ban, 2016
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CLAIRE GASTANAGA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ACLU AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION of VIRGINIA January 26, 2016 The Honorable Terry McAuliffe Governor, Commonwealth of Virginia 3 rd Floor, Patrick Henry Building 1111 East Broad Street Richmond, VA 23219 Dear Governor McAuliffe: AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF VIRGINIA 701 E. FRANKLIN ST. SUITE 1412 RICHMOND, VA 23219 T/804.644.8080 WWW .ACLUVA.ORG Yesterday, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement of juveniles and announced sweeping reforms to reduce use of this horrific practice against adult prisoners in the Federal Bureau of Prisons 1• The use of solitary confinement in our criminal justice system makes a mockery of human and constitutional rights and harms public safety. The ACLU of Virginia is and has been committed to limiting and abolishing the use of solitary confinement. We urge you to follow the President's lead, and take action to 1) ban solitary confinement of juveniles in state and local facilities in Virginia; and 2) develop and implement effective strategies to reduce solitary confinement of adult prisoners in the Commonwealth. The President's action to adopt the recommendations of the United States Department of Justice's (DOJ) Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing2 (the Report) will place critical limits on the use of solitary confinement that will save thousands of prisoners from needless suffering and permanent psychological damage. Expert research conducted in all fields of study on the terrible effects of the practice is overwhelmingly damning, and the harm is not limited to federal facilities. The consequences of solitary confinement reach into Virginia's prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers. The ACLU, in addition to many other advocacy organizations and survivors of solitary confinement, have worked tirelessly for several years to change the law and to educate our elected officials and the public on this awful practice that offends our Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment3. The physical and psychological effects of isolating a person for 22-23 hours a day for long periods of time, sometimes even decades, with little or no human interaction or sensory stimuli, literally drive people insane. As the Report points out, not all types of restrictive housing are "solitary," and there are many synonyms used by correctional systems to describe the practice. There are also varying degrees of isolation, however, 1 https ://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/25/fact-sheet-department-justice-review sol itary-confinement 2 U.S. Department of Justice Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive House (January 2016), www.justice.gov/restrictivehousing. 3 ACLU Stop Solitary Campaign, https://www.aclu.org/issues/prisoners-rights/solitary-confinement.