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Protesters demand prison reform: Lawmakers may not oblige

Prison reform protests like this one may not sway lawmakers.
Prison reform protests like this one may not sway lawmakers.

About 90 people rallied last month in a Richmond park, asking state lawmakers to end solitary confinement. Natasha White with Interfaith Action for Human Rights told the crowd spent four years locked up alone for at least 20 hours a day.

“The dehumanization of solitary confinement is a whole different ballgame. It will break you mentally, spiritually and medically, exacerbating any underlying condition a person already has,” she told the crowd.

The Department of Corrections insists it doesn’t use solitary confinement, calling the practice “restorative housing.” Whatever it’s called, the Senate approved a bill to limit its use to 15 days. Lawmakers put off a vote on reinstating parole until 2023, but Senator Creigh Deeds says that issue isn’t going away.

“We have to look at the cost of maintaining our no-parole status," he explains. "The whole parole discussion is one that we’re going to have to have at some point.”

Virginia spends more than a billion dollars a year on corrections, and the agency has asked for more money to pay prison guards.

While the state ended parole in 1995, about 25-humdred people who committed crimes before that time are still eligible, and the Senate must now decide whether to go along with a bill approved by Republicans in the House. It requires a unanimous vote by the parole board before someone can be freed and changes the practice of annual consideration for inmates to once every three years.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief