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House of Delegates could debate Senate solitary confinement bill in the coming weeks

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would create new limitations on how long inmates can be held in solitary confinement in Virginia prisons. The bill is facing a tough time in the House.

According to a recent report from the United Nations, prolonged solitary confinement is psychological torture. That's why many advocates are hoping to end solitary confinement in Virginia prisons, or at least create some new limitations. But the Department of Corrections says...

"We do not use solitary confinement," says Jermiah Fitz with the Department of Corrections. He says people who run Virginia prisons don't call it solitary confinement. They call it restrictive housing, and he says the department doesn’t really do that anymore – that they changed their policy last summer. Kim Bobo at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy says she hears from people inside prisons all the time, and she says inmates say Virginia prisons continue to hold inmates in solitary confinement.

"I think they're playing games with words," Bobo explains. "They do use restrictive housing. They use restorative housing. They have all these fancy names, but essentially it is still solitary confinement. People are being isolated for long periods of time."

A House panel killed a House version of the bill after some confusion about how the limitation would work. But Senator Joe Morrissey of Richmond has a bill that would limit solitary confinement to 15 consecutive days. That bill has bipartisan support in the Senate, and House members may end up considering it in the next few weeks.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.