Arlington sheriff candidates renounce solitary confinement, emphasize healthcare and oversight

Candidates for Arlington County Sheriff during a recent forum hosted by Offender Aid and Restoration (via Offender Aid and Restoration/Facebook)

All three candidates looking to replace Sheriff Beth Arthur, who retired at the end of last year, say they want to end solitary confinement.

This unifying policy position surfaced during a forum hosted by the nonprofit Offender Aid and Restoration last Thursday.

Arlington County police officer James Herring, retired sheriff lieutenant Wanda Younger and Acting Sheriff Jose Quiroz are seeking the nomination of the Arlington County Democratic Committee in the June primary.

Although unified on running a “safe and progressive” jail, including by ending solitary confinement, they had different plans for improving the physical safety and mental well-being of staff and inmates.

“We’re definitely going to remove [solitary confinement],” said Quiroz, the son of Honduran immigrants who grew up in Arlington and joined the Sheriff’s Office 21 years ago after a stint in the Marine Corps. “We’re already reviewing this. It’s not helpful, it’s not healthy and it’s not rehabilitative. It needs to go.”

Herring, a graduate of Arlington Public Schools who was a police officer in D.C.’s Ward 8 before joining the Arlington County Police Department in 2019, said there are better alternatives to the practice.

“There are going to be people who will have to be separated from others because they just will not work well for whatever reason — they might have to be separated for safety reasons — but we absolutely cannot put people in holes and forget about them,” he said. “We need to connect them to mental and medical health care and keep them connected with family.”

Younger, who retired from the Sheriff’s Office after 31 years of service, said solitary confinement exacerbates mental health issues rather than contributing to an individual’s rehabilitation.

“What we need to do is focus on programs to help identify the root causes of why people act in certain ways,” she said, calling for training in trauma-informed care and in understanding common triggers of negative behaviors.

They articulated positions ARLnow previously reported on, regarding well-being in the jail, which saw seven men die while in jail. Six of the inmates were Black, which led the Arlington branch of the NAACP to push for greater transparency from the office and changes to jail operations.

Quiroz says he is bringing in biometric sensors that allow staff to respond to medical emergencies “where seconds and minutes count” and interested in the county assuming control of medical care.

ACSO ditched its former contracted medical care provider in response to a growing number of deaths in the jail, and one inmate has died since the new provider took over.

Herring argued for adding in-house psychiatrists to the existing ranks of therapists and clinicians.

“We still have to ship people across the state to actually see a psychiatrist who does not know them, their community, where they’re from or what their issue is,” he said. “Oftentimes they just load them up with meds and send them back here until they’re tranquilized enough… to carry on, and the cycle repeats.”

Younger, the NAACP’s secretary, said mental health and medical care and supervision by ASCO leadership should be round-the-clock. Currently, she said, there is no command leadership on holidays and outside of regular work hours.

“We need command leadership there as well with the oversight and accountability to ensure our most vulnerable population is cared for and services are provided for,” she said.

Quiroz argued that medical care is 24/7, with doctors, nurses and psychiatrists on-call when off-site.

He complimented the jail’s “very robust mental health program.”

He said “we’re very lucky” the jail is fully-staffed with 14 county therapists. Other divisions within DHS are not so lucky: the team handling behavioral health and youth, for instance, had a 43% vacancy rate earlier this year.

Younger also took a shot at Quiroz, saying he promoted someone to Chief Deputy despite being “named” in a 2017 lawsuit filed by a former deputy. The federal complaint alleged then-Sheriff Arthur and County Manager Mark Schwartz violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The former deputy suffered with [post-traumatic stress disorder] and was just asking for accommodations. Instead of receiving accommodations, the deputy was retaliated against, reprimanded, reassigned and ultimately, terminated,” she said.

“If we can’t expect for this administration to take care of the deputies, how can we expect the administration to take care of one of our most vulnerable populations, those incarcerated?” she continued.

The now-Chief Deputy conducted an internal investigation that was cited in court documents, but she was never a party to the complaint, according to a court document shared with ARLnow. This defense filing says the officer was, in fact, accommodated in multiple ways but was ultimately fired because his employment was “marked with multiple instances of poor performance” and a “lengthy history of progressive discipline.”

The case was dismissed in 2018 with prejudice, which means the former deputy cannot file the same complaint again, according to Broderick Dunn, who was counsel of record for then-Sheriff Arthur.

“While I will not comment on [the] complaint, specifically, I will state that just because an allegation is made in a complaint does not make that true — it is just that, an allegation,” Dunn, a partner at Cook, Craig and Francuzenko, told ARLnow.