by Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

There was much fanfare about a new Virginia law that went into effect on March 23, 2023 that set specific limits on the use of solitary confinement in Virginia prisons.(1) Long before this law was enacted, VA prison officials and politicians had been lying to the public claiming solitary confinement no longer existed in their prisons.

These lies came in response to public protests of the longstanding use and abuse of solitary in the state’s prisons,(2) which followed on the heels of the 2011 declaration by the United Nations that solitary confinement constitutes torture and its use should not exceed two weeks.

In February, 2012 I was transferred out of state after spending 18 years in solitary in VA’s prisons myself—14 years of which I’d spent in the state’s notoriously abusive and racist supermaxes Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) and Wallens Ridge State Prison (WRSP). Only months later in September 2012, VA created the “segregation reduction step-down program” at the very same prisons. The lie was put to VA’s claims of not practicing solitary confinement by a federal class action lawsuit brought by 12 VA prisoners challenging the step-down program.(3.)

In its 2020 and 2021 rulings, the federal court explicitly found that the program constituted solitary confinement and went on in its rulings to find that the conditions of the program amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and Constitutional due process.(4) The prison official defendants appealed and the federal appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision.(5) The case is still pending.

But here’s the clincher: The new VA law passed earlier this year totally invalidates the authority for and existence of the so-called step down program, which exists solely at ROSP and WRSP under a secret local policy called the “ Restorative Housing Reduction Step-Down Program,”(6) created in these prisons and not by the director of the Virginia Department of corrections (sic!) [VADOC].

Under the new VA law, all policies governing ‘Restorative Housing’ (the euphemism Virginia officials use for segregation and solitary confinement) are to be created by the VADOC director and he shall incorporate the law into these policies.(7)

In violation of this new state law, the director hasn’t approved or signed any policies on the state’s restorative housing, and the ROSP/WRSP step-down program facially violates the law, not only because the law doesn’t allow for any so-called step down program at all, but it requires the facility warden to transition prisoners from regular restorative housing directly back to the general population of the facility “as soon as safely possible” consistent with policies created by the director. Also the fake 30 day hearing processes by a “dual treatment team” in the step down procedure violates the law, which requires weekly restorative housing reviews and the warden to oversee the transition directly back to general population.(8)

In fact, the director specifically defied the new law by refusing to himself create a new statewide restorative housing unit policy, and allowed his colleagues to avoid applying this new law at all to the updated statewide “Restorative Housing Unit” policy, which they signed and went into effect July 1, 2023—almost four months after enactment of the new restorative housing law.(9)

And there’s yet another layer to this lawlessness. In 1985 the VADOC entered into a settlement agreement with the ACLU and VA prisoners in connection with a class action lawsuit brought against a similar solitary confinement system then at Mecklenburg Correctional (sic!) Center (MCC).(10) That settlement agreement constituted a contract independent of the lawsuit itself in which the VADOC agreed to never create another solitary confinement phase program. This agreement was violated in the creation of the ROSP/WRSP step-down program, which duplicates the old MCC phase program.

In fact, after officials violated their own policies in emergency transferring me to ROSP on Oct. 3, 2023 without a hearing, I was recommended on Nov. 20, 2023 for placement in the illegal ROSP/WRSP long term solitary confinement step-down program, and it’s clear this program has nothing to do with maintaining a safe prison environment, and is applied arbitrarily and abusively. The Chief of Housing Amy Duncan demonstrated this.

On Oct. 5, 2023, she had a prisoner, Vernon Jackson #1450266, who had distinguished himself for challenging abuses at the prison, removed from his general population cell and put in restorative housing for no reason. He received no disciplinary infractions, nothing. Yet, on Oct. 19, 2023, Duncan put him in for placement in the ROSP/WRSP step-down program.

Another example is Leon Johnson #1192355. Leon had been placed in the step-down program in 2021. After a year and a half in the program they and several other prisoners at ROSP were called out for interviews with lawyers and journalists interested in reporting on and litigating against the abuses of solitary at the prison. The very next week Leon and several others were suddenly released from the program without having completed it. Suddenly, with these prisoners, there was no concern about security and safety, the mechanically recited justification for the claimed need of the illegal step-down program.

ROSP and WRSP have been operating in the far southwestern region of Virginia since the late 1990s, free of oversight of VADOC central headquarter administrators. They were constructed at extensive taxpayer expense to prop up the sagging economy in the region of the state where coal mining jobs were lost to strip mining and mountain topping. There has never been a legitimate security need for these prisons, so every few years VADOC officials invent new justifications for them despite their design as solitary confinement prisons, because just as often the previous claimed need for these prisons is exposed to be a lie.

So, once again these remote supermaxes are operating lawlessly outside the orbit of public scrutiny. They should have been closed down long ago.

Dare to struggle Dare to win!

 

All power to the people!

At this time ROSP officials have cut all my lines of communication—I have to jump through hoops to get snail mail out. They are denying me phone access and access to use the Jpay email messaging system. Shupavu said she tried to arrange visits to create an avenue of routine communication with everyone, but after she was approved my name was taken out of the VDOC database so no-one can locate me, thereby cutting my ability to receive visits.

As some of you remember when I was held in other states from 2012-2021, those prison systems did not list me in their databases, nor their prisoner locator systems, so no-one, not even lawyers, could locate me—essentially holding me in illegal secret detention. This seems to be more of the same.

Some also remember during 2009/10 when ROSP was holding me incommunicado following the Virginia State Police’s fusion center and Feds profiling me as a “domestic terrorist threat” in a 2009 report because of my stated effectiveness at generating public opposition to prison and police abuse with my writings and my work to revive the BPP, which I had to get overturned by the courts. There is a longstanding and explicitly stated agenda to illegally stop me from publicizing abuses in these prisons.

 

I’ve tried to send out numerous articles (several about abuses here) but they have been intercepting and withholding them to stop their publication and circulation. Last I spoke to Carole 5 articles that I tried to send her and others via Jpay message hadn’t been received. These were sent on Nov. 26 and 29. Two other articles sent on these same dates did make it out about several prisoners being abused here (one being denied needed care for advanced heart disease and others having been beaten by guards while restrained, which nearly drew me into an altercation with with the pigs.) But the prisoners I wrote about were immediately moved from around me. Since those dates (Nov. 26 and 29) I have been completely barred from access to the Jpay system here. So anyone who may have sent messages since then please be aware that I have not seen them.

I need folks to push for maximum exposure of my situation, which is likely to both escalate and deteriorate. It’s almost certain to become physical. A continuous phone/email zap is requested. Directed to

Beth Cabell (VDOC HQ) Phone: 804-834-9967 Email: beth.cabell@vadoc.virginia.gov

David Robinson (VDOC HQ) Phone: 804-887-8078, Email: david.robinson@vadoc.virginia.gov

Chadwick Dotson (VDOC HQ) Phone: (804) 674-3081 Email: Chadwick.Dotson@vadoc.virginia.gov

Rick White (ROSP Warden) Phone: (276) 796-7510

Gregory Holloway (Regional Director VDOC Western Region) Phone:  (540) 561-7050

The demands are:

  1. To stop the censorship of my writings and correspondence, especially with publishers and media people, which many of my correspondents are.
  2. Stop manipulating policies, statuses, and circumstances to keep me incommunicado.
  3. Return me to Sussex 1 State Prison where I can receive medical care for symptomatic chronic heart failure and chronic edema.
  4. Remove me from solitary confinement and referral to ROSP’s long term segregation/step down program.
  5. Remove me from ROSP and Wise County where clearly I am targeted with vendettas from past confinement and resistance to exposures of abuses. Recall I was held in illegal solitary confinement here at ROSP and Wallens Ridge State Prison for 14 years (by many of the same people still working at these prisons and over this western region who are now ranking officials.)
  6. Stop retaliations for my writings exposing abuses of prisoners within VDOC prisons.

Thanks to you all and All Power to the People

Rashid

 

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.