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Nrcat Letter to Va Governor Mcdonnell Re Solitary Confinement 2012

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March 20, 2012

The Honorable Robert F. McDonnell
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Dear Governor McDonnell:
Yesterday, Virginia state Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegates Patrick Hope and Charniele
Herring sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation into Virginia’s
use of solitary confinement at Red Onion State Prison. The more than 300 religious and faithbased groups that support the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a
membership organization committed to ending torture, contend that prolonged isolation is
inhumane in the way it destroys prisoners’ minds and violates humans’ inherent God-given
dignity. Many studies have documented the detrimental psychological effects of long-term
segregation, such as hallucinations, paranoia, and panic attacks. More often than not, prisoners
held in segregation return to society as less functional human beings, and studies indicate that
isolation increases prisoners’ risk of recidivism.
On March 15, 2012, the New York Times reported in an editorial, “Abuse of Solitary
Confinement,” that in 2010, Virginia paid 50 percent more per day to house prisoners in solitary
confinement than in regular cells. In light of the high cost of solitary confinement and its
diminishing returns, states around the country are reducing their use of segregation and finding
that there are safe alternatives. For example, Mississippi drastically reduced its use of solitary
confinement and as a result, has not only saved millions of taxpayer dollars, but actually
experienced a decline in violent incidents within prison.
We were pleased to learn that although legislation to require a study of the use of segregation by
the Virginia Department of Corrections (DOC) was defeated last month, the DOC expressed no
opposition to the study and in fact reported last week on its plans to improve administrative
segregation at Red Onion State Prison.
NRCAT applauds the DOC for its internal plans for reforms, including an additional layer of
review of prisoners recommended for placement in segregation at Red Onion State Prison.
However, we would also urge you to provide for an independent review using expert data
analysis methodology. Such independent review has been essential for other states in
successfully implementing alternatives to solitary confinement.

National Religious Campaign Against Torture
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 502, Washington, DC 20002


The Vera Institute of Justice’s Segregation Reduction Project (SRP) facilitates policy changes by
reassessing violations qualifying a prisoner for segregation and providing data-based
presentations to corrections officials about patterns in and outcomes of their use of segregation.
In consultation with corrections staff, SRP recommends strategies to safely reduce segregation
and tracks the outcomes of those changes on institutional safely and new violations over time. A
summary of SRP’s current partnerships with correctional staff in Illinois, Washington and
Maryland is enclosed.
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Corrections made a formal request to the National
Institute of Corrections (NIC), U.S. Department of Justice, to initiate an external review of its
administrative segregation operations. Dr. James Austin, a national expert in offender
classification systems and administrative segregation data analysis methodology, and Emmitt
Sparkman, Deputy Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and expert in
prisons operations, worked on-site with Colorado correctional staff and were essential to the
overall analysis of the Colorado Department of Corrections’ policies and practices. As a result
of their review, Colorado has already safely moved more than 300 prisoners out of segregation.
We urge you to request that the Virginia DOC invite independent and objective experts to assist
in implementing comprehensive reforms.
Thank you for your consideration.


Linda Gustitus, NRCAT President

Rev. Richard L. Killmer, NRCAT Executive Director

Rev. Jon Barton, General Minister
Virginia Council of Churches


Marla Graff Decker, Secretary of Public Safety
Jane Brown, Director of Community Partnerships

National Religious Campaign Against Torture
110 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 502, Washington, DC 20002