ACLU Joins Call for More Information on How Virginia Handles Solitary Confinement

Jan 10, 2019

Credit Dave Nakayama / Creative Commons

Democratic lawmakers and the ACLU of Virginia are pushing for more information on how the state uses solitary confinement.

After being convicted for having child pornography, former pastor David Smith spent more than a year in solitary confinement in Norfolk. Jail officials told him it was for his own safety.

“I can share anecdotes about my time in solitary confinement. About having one hour of rec time every two weeks. About being in the cell for months on end that was infested by bed bugs and spiders where I’d wake up every morning with bites up and down my leg.”

What he can’t share is how many other people have the same experience. The Department of Corrections isn’t required to collect or share data on who it isolates or why. Democratic Senator David Marsden is filing a bill to change that.

“Collecting information on who’s in the rooms, why they’re in the rooms, how long they’re staying, what their status is. How we’re dealing with getting them out and returned to the general population.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections says the state is a national leader in limiting the use of solitary confinement, or as they call it -- restrictive housing.

Activists say they could better confirm that claim if they had the numbers.

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