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Legislation to limit solitary confinement hits a snag

Advocates who want to ban solitary confinement were hopeful that they were finally going to see a victory when Republican Delegate Glenn Davis of Virginia Beach signed on. The bill sailed through committee to reach the House floor.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

"The floor substitute that we have in front of us is essentially the outcome of what happens when I go to prison with the minority leader," Davis said of the legislation. House Minority Leader Don Scott went with Davis to visit a prison in Sussex before the session.

But by the time delegates were ready to vote, Davis had a substitute version that stripped out the maximum of 15 days that people who are incarcerated could be kept in solitary confinement. "Not being able to account for every exception of why we have to be there in excess of 15 days, it opened it up for litigation potentially," Davis admitted. "So that's the only piece I think that we could not resolve between the initial bill and what we see today."

Delegate Patrick Hope is a Democrat from Arlington who says he's disappointed the bill to ban solitary confinement no longer bans solitary confinement. But he said he is pleased the bill requires that all incarcerated people have some time out of cell each day plus it requires prisons document why they put people in solitary. "Maybe they smarted off or maybe they didn't stand up in time in morning when they are doing the check ins. We don't want people to be thrown into solitary confinement for no reason," Hope said.

The Senate version of the bill still has the 15 day limit, so the differences may have to be worked out in a conference committee that is not open to the public.

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