BLACK LIVES MATTER VIRGINIA PRISON CHAPTER
RACIAL RECONCILIATION POLICY PROPOSAL
In the United States 2.3 million people are incarcerated on any given day, a 700% increased from 1970. Here in Virginia (VA) the prison population has increased from 19,000 in 1995 to over 30,000 prisoners in VDOC on any given day currently. The nearly 100% increase resulted from the State becoming so called "Tough on Crime" by implementing Truth In Sentencing (TIS) crime policy. The TIS policy package began a process of Mass Incarceration that both treated and impacted VA's Black community differently. The Mass Incarceration trend has significantly increased American poverty, as incarcerating individuals has a ripple effect on families and communities. Specifically, poverty rates would be lowered by 20% had Mass Incarceration not occurred. Because incarcerated individuals are not included in poverty rates, incarcerated individuals do not receive the same services as other impoverished individuals, but experience similar hardships, such as food insecurity. This means black people are suffering most since Afrikan Americans are over-represented at each stage of VA's criminal justice system. In VA Black people comprise roughly 19% of the overall population, however in the so called 'Justice System' we comprise 62% of state prisons inmates. As a result, nearly 22% of blacks in VA have lost their right to vote. Black prisoners in VA too are serving much longer sentences in prison than whites. According to the Pew Center, VA had the second highest growth in 'Length of Stay' (LOS) of it's prisoners between 1990 and 2009. Only Florida's LOS was higher. Prison sentences in VA rose 91% during that period. Yet this crime policy isn't compatible with the states data on crime rates. Crime in VA began declining in 1992. Between 1994 and 2012 violent crime in VA decreased by 47% and property crime decreased by 41%. While this trend is on par with national averages, VA's incarceration rates have shifted in the opposite direction. As crime rates declined in VA incarceration rates increased by 14% between 1994 and 2012, meaning more black people were being locked up for longer periods while crime in the state was declining. Since 1995 VA has built 13 new prisons by which to Mass Incarcerate Blacks. Many of these prisons were built in the western region of the state and are operated by all white staff who oftentimes espouse conservative, and frankly, racist ideologies. This has led to decades of abuse at prisons like Red Onion, Wallens Ridge, and now River North which are notorious for their abuse of prisoners. What we black prisoners are saying is our Black Lives Matter too and when you Mass Incarcerate one Black Person the Block Community as a whole suffers. Mothers, Fathers, Daughters, Sons, Sisters, Brothers, etc are lost for years and black communities are left to fill the voids and pick up the pieces. Thus we prisoners have come up with a BLM Racial Reconciliation Policy Proposal for the state of VA to be able to correct decades of harm they've caused as a result of this intentional exploitation of its black communities. This proposal was put together by several prisoners at different prisons who've experienced VA's Mass Incarceration system for decades.
SENTENCING/ CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
a.Repeal §53.1-165.1 "Limitations on Parole":This statue abolished parole for any person who committed a felony on or after January 1, 1995. This law is the anchor of what we know is the racist or racially biased TIS crime policy here in VA.
b. Repeal §53.1-202.2 "Earned Sentence Credit":This is the second most important law in the TIS package. The law dehumanizes black people in that it implies that we are incapable and unworthy of redemption for our crimes. One can infer from the TIS policy that VA believes WE ARE OUR CRIMES and thus deserve to sit in cages for decades without incentive, encouragement, or opportunity to reform/transform ourselves
.c.Amend §53.1-40.01 "Geriatric Release Law":This law was placed in the TIS package to give the state a way to rid itself of elderly and terminally ill prisoners once the VDOC has determined that those prisoners' presence in their prisons was more of a liability than an asset. This law too is dehumanizing because it rewards people for committing crimes later in life when the world has acknowledged that the younger a person is the "less" culpable they are for their crimes since their brain hasn't fully developed and their experiences are much more limited
d. Reform the 'Purpose' of the Crime and Sentencing Commissions:These commissions have been used as partisan instruments of the Republican Party to conduct studies and create reports that supported the racist TIS criminal justice policy here in VA. We need impartial commissions that take a holistic approach to studying crime & sentencing policy in VA that includes the mental health, economic factors, educational levels, and physical health of "people" who commit crimes and serve time in VA.
POST CONVICTION REFORM
a.Amend the "21 day rule" (Rule 1:1 VA Supreme Court Rules):This 'rule' has been used to block Juvenile, Fishback, Baker, and many other prisoners from accessing the court to receive justice. This rule has been instrumental in locking up black prisoners and throwing away the key here in VA.b. Amend §19.2-308 'Sentencing or Modification of Sentence':This law has excluded prisoners sent to the Dep't of Corrections from petitioning the sentencing court to suspend or modify their sentence. When this law was enacted in 1975 prisoners in VA were parole eligible and could earn substantial good time credit. This law should have been Amended to reflect the new condition of Mass Incarceration resulting from VA's TIS policies. This too has contributed to the excessive punishment endured by Black people in VA's criminal justice system.
PRISONER'S RIGHTS and STATE COURT ACCESS
a. Repeal the exclusion in The Administrative Process Act, §2.2-4002 (B) (9):This exclusion from the 'Administrative Process Act' has allowed prison officials to deny prisoners the very rights VDOC Operating Procedures are supposed to afford them. Prisoners in VA have very few remedies to challenge violations of administrative policy which has led to a culture of abuse of policy and no accountability by VDOC officials. This exclusion has also denied citizen participation in the creation of VDOC policy- without any significant government interest to do so.
b.Amend §8.01-184 et. seq. "Declaratory Judgement Act" to include a waiver of the States Sovereign Immunity for prisoners:Prisoners in VA have very few state judicial remedies to protect their state rights because the legislature has been unwilling to waive the State's Sovereign Immunity from most civil actions. This hurts prisoners particularly since the overwhelming majority of our actions involve legal controversies with the VDOC. VA prisoners have been forced to file §42 USC1983 Civil Rights complaints that cost $400 because there are almost no state remedies available for us to address issues of prisoners state rights. VDOC officials have used their immunity to create a culture of abuse. Giving prisoners access to the Declaratory Judgement Act would dramatically change the culture of abusing prisoners administrative rights with impunity
EDUCATION & VOCATIONAL TRAINING REFORM
a. Establish Community College and Workforce Development Programs:Many prisoners are released with very limited education and marketable job skills for the modern knowledge/ tech based economy. We'd like to see the state invest in a college program that provides prisoners with the academic resources and technical training necessary for pursuing and obtaining viable employment in the modern economy. We believe this effort would work better if the state approached prisoner training using the state's workforce development model for unskilled workers out in society.
PHYSICAL & BEHAVIORAL HEALTH CARE REFORM
a. Create enforceable dietary requirements for prison food service departments:Nutrients can cause changes in mood, learning abilities, and memory while also causing depression and disordered eating. Also, eating low quality foods can lead to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and many other illnesses. The relationship between inadequate nutrition and health complications is clear and we want VA to follow more comprehensive nutritional guidelines and hold prison officials accountable for implementing them properly. Poor health goes home with prisoners who are released which both burdens societal resources and increases recidivism.
b. Expand Mental Health Services, Staff, And Treatment:Generally VDOC's mental health "treatment" in prison is administered solely in the form of psychotropic drugs. VDOC makes a distinction between prisoners with mental illness and those with "serious" mental illness (SMI). Often excluded from SMI are extreme anxiety, depression, and difficulties in cognition or impulse control. Additionally, there is no separate budget maintained by VDOC for mental health services. VDOC themselves stated that the current One (1) Qualified Mental Health Professional (QMHP) to Two Hundred Fifty (250) prisoners was insufficient, and that to add One (1) QMHP per facility would cost $1,519,000 annually for salaries. We know that prison produces a myriad of traumas that are going undiagnosed and untreated which cause prisoners to suffer along with the communities they return to when released. We'd like to see mental health services given its own budget and made an essential component of the reentry process treating illnesses such as Substance Abuse, PTSD, Institutionalization, Anxiety & depression, voyeurism, etc. Many of these illnesses and more that prisoners suffer were developed in prison.c.End Medical Co-pay Permanently:Medical Co-pays for prisoners discourages their use of health services, causing many prisoners to live with serious ailments, illness, and disease for years.
VDOC POLICY & PROCEDURE REFORM
a. Reduce Annual Lockdowns:
VDOC locks it's prison's down four times a year (quarterly). During these lockdowns, prisoners are locked in a cell for weeks where they're allowed one shower every 3 days and not allowed to use the phone or the jpay email system. These lockdowns are severe and serve no other purpose than to control and dominate prisoners under the guise of security. Prisons have authority to impose an emergency lockdown at any time so there's no need to lock prisons down eight (8) weeks a year as a routine. Not only are lockdowns depressing, boring, and enraging but they keep prisoners from school, work, programs, recreation, and family. Make lockdown twice a year and for emergencies like it was for decades before A. David Robinson became VDOC Corrections Operations Chief (COC).
b .Increase Visitation Programs:Since the introduction of TIS and "controlled movement" in 1995, VDOC has continuously reduced the amount of time prisoners have during visitation and less opportunities to visit loved ones. VDOC ended all family days and furloughs for prisoners. Black families are disproportionately impacted by Mass Incarceration in VA and so too are the communities from which they are absent for years and decades. We believe VA's focus should be on maintaining family and community ties so that prisoners can reintegrate back into those communities much more comfortably. VDOC should have family programs for parents, children, spouses, and siblings to celebrate their love for one another. Getting rid of being "Tough" on crime means shifting the perception of us "people in prison" as simply "offenders", and treating us as "human beings who've committed crimes" that can change if they put forth the effort.
c .Increase the number of Minority and Female Staff in VDOC Western Region Prisons:Prisons in the Western Region are notorious among prisoners and their families for their blatantly racist acts toward them both. VDOC has been complicit in this for years and reinforced the racist culture when hiring A. David Robinson as COC. Western Region prisons are staffed by 90% white males who espouse conservative and often times white supremacist ideology who have absolute power over a majority black population from urban areas. Since 2014 when A. David Robinson became VDOC COC, many Western Region prison officials have been promoted to high positions throughout the agency. This cronyism has functioned as a means to export Western Region culture to VDOC's Central & Eastern Regions. We assert that Robinson himself is racially insensitive and frankly holds animus towards the black prisoners under his care and their family. We believe VDOC can't reform if the officials from the so-called "Tough" era are still allowed to manage & operate the system on the highest levels.
Lastly, we believe Harold Clarke has been complicit in Robinson's racist actions because he never checks his policy, procedures, or promotions.