March 21, 2012
Three Virginia lawmakers are seeking a federal investigation of the use of solitary confinement in the state's prisons.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington, and Delegates Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington, and Charniele Herring, D-Alexander, asked the Justice Department to investigate the practice in a letter sent this week to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The lawmakers are particularly concerned about inmates who have mental illnesses.
"I believe Virginia has been engaged in a form of psychological torture of certain prisoners in segregation," Hope told The Washington Post. "Much of it is unnecessary and all of it is because we don't know there is a more effective and humane way to house prisoners."
Virginia Department of Corrections spokesman Larry Trayler said mentally ill inmates are segregated, not isolated or in solitary confinement. They may communicate with other inmates, have visitors and talk by telephone to friends and family.
"To equate segregation with isolation is simply incorrect," he told the newspaper.
The Legal Aid Justice Center also has asked the Justice Department to conduct an investigation. The center represents 12 inmates in isolation in Virginia.