Independent’s Day is a weekly opinion column by published on Wednesdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
“Torture is always wrong.” That’s not just a bumper sticker sitting on my desk; it’s also a quote from Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).
On December 3rd of last year, less than a month after the election, I had two options for continued civic participation: attend the Realize Rosslyn Kickoff Event or the Program on Virginia’s Use of Solitary Confinement. I chose the latter. The Program on Virginia’s Use of Solitary Confinement was held at Arlington Central Library and hosted by NRCAT, Social Action Linking Together (SALT), and Amnesty International (Arlington Chapter). Each speaker highlighted a reality that can be lost on the majority of us who have never had the experience: extensive, unlimited, solitary confinement is a violation of the 8th Amendment’s protection from cruel and unusual punishments.
In August of 1998, in Wise County Virginia, the Red Onion State Prison opened as a security level “S.” Its Virginia location was likely the reason for the presence of State Delegate Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) at the meeting I attended. According to Red Onion’s website, their average population is 799 prisoners but a Washington Post article reported 505 of 745 inmates were held in solitary confinement as of last October. I have no way of knowing whether two-thirds of inmates housed by Red Onion “deserve” lonely lockdown for 23 hours per day. The prisoners were accused of crimes and sentenced by our criminal courts after being afforded all of the normal rights we associate with our justice system. What the meeting I attended highlighted however, was to the extent that they were being punished versus being rehabilitated.
The mission of the Virginia Department of Corrections is to enhance public safety by providing effective programs, re-entry services, and supervision of sentenced offenders in a humane, cost efficient manner, consistent with sound correctional principles and constitutional standards. Accomplishing any part of that mission is impossible if the 8th Amendment to our United States Constitution is not being upheld.
Heather Rice, formerly of NRCAT, is featured in their 20 minute video, “Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard” and spoke at the meeting. In the video she states that extensive solitary confinement “…Destroys people from the mind outward.” This is especially the case when prisoners are held not just for days or weeks but months and years, for 23 hours at a time. Sustainable re-entry into the public or even “general population” in prison is nearly impossible; especially after having so severely damaged a human’s ability to psychologically interact with other humans. Public safety cannot be enhanced by reinforcing paranoia, delusions or sociopathic tendencies.
Spoiler alert: the movie Zero Dark Thirty mistakenly depicts torture as the means by which we found Osama Bin Laden. NRCAT pulled quotes from Senator McCain, and Former CIA Directors Michael Hayden and Leon Panetta disputing those claims. In September of 2011, FBI agent Ali Soufan gave an interview on 60 minutes asserting that his knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and fluency in Arabic – not torture – help identify Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the 9/11 mastermind. Torture rarely, if ever, nets a quality outcome. The inflictor suffers nearly as much as the receiver. If extensive solitary confinement is torture, then we cannot expect a quality outcome for our prisoners or guards.
Last year Del. Hope submitted legislation to study this issue. It is currently being held in committee but it is legislation I can support in good conscience. Perhaps you can too. Along with Del. Hope, Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria) and Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Arlington) all visited Red Onion State Prison last year to personally assess and address complaints. There are plans for another visit this March or April to corroborate the reported decline in solitary confinements since their last visit.
We can be both “tough on crime” and remember our humanity. We debase our prison guards by allowing potential dehumanization of our prisoners. Our mission in prisons must be more than warehousing bad people if for no other reason than we will someday release them.
On a lighter note, I no longer wear my nametag. Thanks for asking.
Jason Howell, a former accountant and a motivational speaker, ran as an independent candidate for U.S. Congress in 2012.
Good Friday evening, Arlington. Let’s take a look back at today’s stories and a look forward to tomorrow’s event calendar. 🕗 News recap The following articles were published earlier today…
Spend the first Sunday of March tasting a great wine selection at Arrowine’s Super Sunday Tasting!
Workers lowered signage today (Friday) from the now-former Giant supermarket in the Lyon Village Shopping Center. Several passersby watched with interest as the team unscrewed the letters G-I-A-N-T from the…
New properties just listed in Arlington include a 3 BD/3 BA home with an expanded kitchen, fireplace and two lower levels.
March General Membership Meeting
NAACP Arlington Branch is celebrating Women’s History Month with a virtual public safety and Virginia legislative update. Our speakers are Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and Delegate Adele McClure.
Virginia House of Delegates, 2nd District in Arlington
Early Years Preschool is a small non-profit preschool and parents day out program that has served local families since 1992. Early Years Preschool is located in the Cherrydale neighborhood at 3701 Lorcom Lane.
Early Years Preschool offers part-time programs for young children between 12 months – 5 years old. Early Years also offers a 6 week summer program! The school day is 9:30-2:30, with the option of morning extended day offered at 9am. Families have the flexibility of registering for 1-3 days/week in their parent’s day out program (12 months- 2 year olds) and 2-5 days/week for their preschool program (3-5 year olds).
Early Years’ teachers provide a nurturing environment that promotes the development of a child’s emotional, social, cognitive, and physical skills. Creative and stimulating theme-based activities allow each child to develop and learn at his or her own pace through exploration and play.
Learn more about Early Years Preschool by contacting the admissions team at [email protected] or by visiting their website at http://www.earlyyearspreschool.org
Dedicated to the notion that fans of the Smiths and Morrissey want to hear some of the greatest music ever written in a true live concert setting, Caligula Blushed delivers an authentic rendition of Smiths/Morrissey songs, with each performance based