The Washington Post had this important editorial on the overuse of solitary confinement in Virginia prison. The Post calls on Virginia to follow in the footsteps of other states that have moved in the right direction and begun to reduce their reliance on solitary confinement.
As we wrote last week, Department of Corrections (DOC) officials laud 23-hour-a-day lockdown as a necessary measure for handling the “worst of the worst.” Unfortunately, this supposed “worst of the worst” includes the mentally ill — the Virginia DOC admits that almost 30% of those in solitary in Red Onion State Prison have been diagnosed as mentally ill. Even worse, prisoners are sometimes kept in solitary for years, regardless of their mental health status.
As the Post correctly points out, “prolonged solitary confinement can lead to devastating consequences, including psychosis, reduced brain function, debilitating depression and increased rates of suicide.”
Three legislators have finally introduced a bill to investigate the practice of long-term solitary confinement in Virginia. The ACLU of Virginia writes, “whether or not the bill will pass in 2012 is up in the air, but now that the issue has garnered some attention, it will at the very least be an important part of the legislative discussion this year… Solitary confinement is no longer off the radar. Other states have begun to pass laws limiting its use, and Virginia should do the same.”