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Protesters in Richmond Demand Prison Reform

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RadioIQ
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About 40 people rallied in Richmond this weekend as part of a national protest against prisons. 

In Virginia and across the nation protesters rang bells in remembrance of loved ones doing time in jails and prisons. They called on lawmakers to reinstate parole and grant credits for good behavior to all inmates, and they demanded an end to for-profit prisons.  Delegate Elizabeth Guzman introduced a bill last year to close this state’s only private prison.  It failed, but Guzman said she would try again.

“In three years their contract is up, and I’m telling you that this fight is not over," she said. " There is an opportunity in front of us right here on November 3rd.  If we’re serious about criminal justice reform, I’m here today to invite you to use your super power, which is voing."

Also coming forward to speak – Stefan Baskerville, a former correctional officer at the Lawrenceville Prison.  He was placed on administrative leave when he complained about understaffing, inadequate measures to control COVID, terrible food and limited access to medical care. He recalled, for example, catching a prisoner making an unapproved trip to the infirmary with a bleeding wound.

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Protesters Rachel Wilson (L) and Hilary Robinson called for expanded good time credits, restoration of parole and closing of the state's only private, for-profit prison.

  

“He held a bandage on his neck, filled with blood,” Baskerville recalled. The man told him, "I’ve been trying to get to medical for one week."

Baskerville called the clinic on his radio to explain the situation and was advised to tell the prisoner he should return to his cell – that medical would “get to him when we can.”

Kristin Blake, whose husband is at Lawrenceville, says services have gotten worse since COVID hit.

“My husband hasn’t had recreation in a month," she said. " He is incarcerated in the same pod with guys who are positive. He went weeks with one meal a day, and his whole facility was flooded for days. They had not running water for three days, no showers, + no phones, no way to speak to their loved ones, and nobody will listen!"

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Posing across the street from Virginia's capitol, demonstrators vowed to keep coming back until state prisons are improved, parole restored and good time expanded.

Her spouse is considered a violent criminal because he committed a robbery using a plastic water gun.  That means he’s not eligible for good time credit.  She wants the law changed so he can win early release, but in public hearings it wasn’t clear lawmakers even understood a bill that would expand good time.

“I watched the special session the other day on the good time bill, and I have to tell you how disappointed I was that half of them didn’t even know what the bill was," she explains. "We can’t allow this.  I will be here every year.  I will be here every single time.  I will be here, and I hope to see all of you with me, because this is what it’s going to take to make sure that they come home.”

And Tracey Colquit said she would also keep speaking out, even though prisons seem to retaliate – moving inmates to more secure correctional centers if their relatives complain.

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Protesters wore masks that said 'Shut It Down,' referring to Virginia's only private, for-profit prison.

“We are their voices, because there’s nobody in those prisons paying any attention to what they’re saying," she told a cheering crowd.  "As his mother I need to do something, and I’m so hurt, because it just seems like every time we speak up, my son gets transferred.”

During their special session, lawmakers are expected to vote on a bill making inmates with terminal illness or physical disabilities eligible for parole and another to increase the amount of “good time” inmates can earn toward early release.  

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.