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Legislature again punts on bill to scale back solitary confinement in prisons

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clasped hands, prison bars

Legislation that would have restricted the use of solitary confinement in state prisons was again stopped in the General Assembly.

Republicans on a House public safety committee on Thursday advanced the legislation, but only in the form of a study of solitary confinement in Virginia’s prisons.

The bill from Sen. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond, had passed the Senate but was scaled back Thursday. The legislature killed the proposal last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union was among groups supporting the original bill. Supporters of ending or reducing solitary confinement point to research showing it has devastating mental health effects on people.

“There’s been enough studies to show what the effects of solitary confinement are,” said Natasha White, a coordinator with the Virginia Coalition on Solitary Confinement.

Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said the Department of Corrections had done a good job of reducing the numbers of people in solitary confinement, but inhumane treatment continued. He said he wanted DOC to take the study seriously and find ways to bring the estimated 300 people in solitary confinement on any given day out of solitary confinement.

The Department of Corrections now calls solitary confinement “restorative housing,” which caused confusion for legislators during hearings this year.

“There’s nothing restorative about this,” said Del. Candi King, D-Prince William.

Hope said he was tired of the word games. “Everyone knows what we’re talking about here.”

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Twitter: @patrickmwilson

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