Virginia Watch

Inmate's death raises questions on stun guns, investigation

The high cost of hard time

Messages from the heart Woman offers inmates a link to their families


February, 2000

Activists are battling Gov. Gilmore's "Operation SABRE," a draconian set of proposals that would increase drug policing and mandatory minimum sentences.

If you are from Virginia, please visit our collaborative web site with the group Virginians Against Drug Violence, to send a free e-mail or fax to your state Senator and Delegate and to find our more information about Operation SABRE and how to get involved.

Thanks to DRCNet for this news item


LEFT: Red Onion State Prison

Red Onion is a super-maximum security institution located in Wise County, Virginia.



The Department of Corrections enhances public safety by controlling and supervising sentenced offenders in a humane, cost-efficient manner, consistent with sound correctional principles and constitutional standards.


RED ONION STATE PRISON Wise County, Virginia

Red Onion State Prison is a 1200 bed super-maximum security (cold storage for humans) facility opened in August 1998. Supermax prisons like ROSP (and it's twin, WallensRidge State Prison in Big Stone Gap,VA opened in April 1999) were foisted on an unsuspecting voting public via, yet another, "tough on crime" political propaganda campaign. A campaign which divested them of their tax dollars to buld unnecessarily expensive prisons to house nonexistent superpredators from Virginia. To get more inmates for the half empty prisons, poiticians then had to pass more Draconian laws to abolish parole and lengthen sentences and when that wasn't enough, they imported inmates from other states.

Ostensibly designed to house "superpredators", the DOC (Dept. of Corrections) has diluted the concept of what constitutes disruptive or dangerous behavior to fill empty beds. The DOC is sending men there who should be in other less restrictive facilities. This demonstrates the obvious; that they do not have enough disruptive inmates in the prison system to justify the construction of the two Virginia Super-max prisons. In other words, they have lied to Virginian voters and taxpayers about the need for these prisons.

As if all this were not bad enough, activity behind prison razorwire is adding injury to insult. The very proof of existence of "superpredators" has been unsubstantiated (in VA or anywhere else in the US for that matter), on the contrary, control in these prisons borders on "overkill" to say the least. Guard on inmate brutality far exceeds provocation. Beatings (requiring hospitalization) in retaliation for being "hit" in the leg by a rolled up piece of paper thrown by an inmate. Taser "administration" through food slots if an inmate refuses to eat inedible food, asks for a phone call or writing materials. Buckshot to the inmates who are jostled out of line (over a painted red line) resulting in permanently buckshotted tatoos on their backs and to the loss of an eye for another. And let us not forget the hapless inmate (who still had a shred of dignity intact) who balked at disrobing and spreading his buttocks before the eyes of a female guard who was videotaping it. He got tasered for his human dignity. In full view and close proximity of the Warden at Red Onion.

Clearly, super-maximum security confinement raises serious human rights questions. Governments must respect the inherent dignity, safety and basic human rights of all people, and this includes inmates. Especially in view of their vulnerability while in containment. Treatment that constitutes torture, cruelty, inhumnnity or degradation has been prohibited by international human rights treaties. These treaties are: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT).

When conditions in prisons are such that they present unnecessarily harsh treatment, deprivations (sensory, sustenance or medical) disproportionate to reasonable human needs and physical and or mental abuse (beatings,unjustifiable violence) are disproportionate to reasonable correctional control, this is a direct violation of international human rights treaties which the United States has ratified (given sanction to).

Be advised that many more of these supermax prisons are being planned throughout the US and existing prisons reportedly being converted. It could be argued that the US no longer has an interest in human rights. That those of us who do are simply not getting with the program.. what do YOU think?

For more info on human rights violations go here:


For more info on human rights violations in Red Onion State Prison go here:



March 6, 2000

BY BILL SIZEMORE, The Virginian-Pilot Copyright 2000, Landmark Communications Inc.

For years, politicians of both parties have been promising to sweep the streets of violent criminals and lock them away in Virginia's burgeoning prison system. "Violent thugs are getting the message: Virginia is not the place to earn a living as a criminal predator, preying on innocent, law-abiding citizens," then-Gov. George Allen declared in 1995. But Virginia's prison population has been swollen by people incarcerated for nonviolent crimes-especially drug offenders.

In the early 1980s, about 10 percent of Virginians being put in state prisons were drug offenders. By the 1990s, that figure had climbed to 25 percent. In federal prisons today, drug defendants make up 60 percent of the inmate population. Violent offenders comprise just 12 percent. U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey has called the mushrooming population of imprisoned drug offenders "America's internal gulag."

And there is a high human toll, critics say. "They're tearing families apart with their drug war," said Lennice Werth of Crewe, Va., director of the drug-law reform group Virginians Against Drug Violence. "The war on drugs amounts to a war on families and children." Allen and other Virginia politicians who waged and now defend the drug war say their target is dealers, not users. Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, chairman of the Virginia State Crime Commission, declared flatly in an interview: "Nobody goes into our state prison system for possession of drugs. It doesn't happen."

Department of Corrections records tell a different story. Of all the drug offenders admitted to state prisons in fiscal year 1998, two out of three were for possession, or possession with intent to distribute. Under Virginia law, possession with intent to distribute carries the same penalties as actual distribution. More than one in 10 of all those admitted to prison in 1998 -- from burglars to murderers-were locked up for possession of cocaine.

Richard P. Kern, director of the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, said most drug offenders imprisoned for simple possession have prior felony convictions. Allen, the architect of Virginia's latest wave of prison construction, defended the state's tough anti-drug stance in an interview. In fact, he said, "I think we ought to have even harsher penalties for drug dealers." "The problem of drugs is something that I think we have to continue fighting and not just throw up our hands and say, 'Oh, gosh, this is hopeless,' " Allen said. "I think what we're missing is leadership and efforts at a national level, because this is not just a state issue."

Allen's not the only one pushing for harsher drug penalties. His successor, Gov. Jim Gilmore, wants to spend an added $41.5 million to crack down on drug abuse, including tougher sentences for many offenders. "Illegal drugs are penetrating our communities and threatening our children more and more, year after year," Gilmore said in announcing the new initiative last fall. ". . . Illegal drugs today become Public Enemy No. 1."

Prosecution hasn't affected drug use

Drug prosecutions have been underwritten by federal financial incentives. Over the past 10 years, Virginia localities have received more than $100 million in federal drug-control grants. Yet illicit drug use, according to national surveys, has remained more or less constant for a decade. The surveys suggest that the war on drugs, the principal factor behind the prison boom, isn't working. "The Virginia legislature is among the many groups of folks in this country who think that if you punish people enough, they'll stop doing the stuff that you don't want them to do," said June Gertig, a Herndon, Va., lawyer whose son was a teenage drug addict. "But with addiction, it's not like that. Punishment doesn't stop the addiction. You've got to get underneath the addiction and treat it."

In 1998, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse produced annually by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10.6 percent of Americans reported using an illicit drug in the past year. That number has hovered steadily between 10 and 11 percent since 1991. State-by-state estimates produced by HHS indicate that drug use in Virginia mirrors the national pattern.

The most popular illegal drug, by far, is marijuana. With an estimated annual production value of $197 million, it has surpassed tobacco as Virginia's leading cash crop, according to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. Yet, few Virginians are imprisoned on marijuana charges today. Ironically, cocaine, the drug for which Virginians are most frequently prosecuted, is used by only a tiny minority of the population -- 1.7 percent, according to the same 1998 survey. Treatment may be more effective route

Whatever the drug, a large body of research indicates that incarceration is a grossly expensive and ineffective method of discouraging use. Research by Rand, a Washington think tank, has found that $1 million spent on drug treatment would reduce serious crime 15 times more than the same amount of money spent on expanding mandatory prison terms. Arizona, the first state to begin treating all its nonviolent drug offenders rather than locking them up, reported last spring that the new approach saved more than $2.5 million in the first year and is likely to reap greater savings in the future. Of 2,622 drug users diverted into probation and treatment, the report said, 77.5 percent subsequently tested free of drugs.

Ron Angelone, Virginia's corrections director, is fond of telling those who advocate rehabilitating inmates: "We can't rehabilitate anybody; they have to rehabilitate themselves." "Of course, we all agree with that," said Jean Auldridge, director of Virginia CURE (Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants). "But we believe they should have the tools provided, and the opportunity, so they'll be ready to come out and resume their lives." "We need to do two things," Auldridge said. "One is to have more treatment programs available. And we need post-release assistance for the transition back into society."

There is little emphasis on drug treatment in Virginia prisons

It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of state prisoners are drug abusers, but only 8 percent of Virginia inmates are in drug treatment programs, according to the 1998 Corrections Yearbook.

Probation, the most common alternative to incarceration, is relatively rare in Virginia. Only five states have lower probation rates. In recent years, the state has begun developing other alternatives to imprisonment such as detention centers, diversion centers and boot camps. But the number of people served is modest: There were 824 offenders enrolled in those three programs statewide as of June 30, 1999, and another 223 on the waiting lists. The Senate Finance Committee staff predicts they will reduce prison-space demand by 1,300 beds-about 4 percent of capacity.

Opportunities for education and vocational training are also skimpy. In a series of recent interviews, inmates told of waiting up to two years just to get into a G.E.D. class. "We're doing little or nothing to rehabilitate these people," said Sen. Richard J. Holland, D-Isle of Wight. "What we're doing is warehousing them."

Prisoners say system ignores them

Stories of Virginia's imprisoned drug offenders are suffused with seething resentment, cynicism and despair. Russell Stone, 37, is serving 15 years for the sale of marijuana and cocaine and possession of LSD in Virginia Beach and Wytheville. He has recently been transferred to Western Tidewater Regional Jail in Suffolk from Bland Correctional Center, a complex of three-story, flat-top brick buildings, guard towers and razor-wire fences nestled amid the verdant mountains of Bland County in southwest Virginia. Stone says drugs were an escape from pain. He spent much of his childhood in a series of orphanages and foster homes, a victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. He has been turned down for parole seven times. He will be due for mandatory release in April after having spent more than nine years behind bars. It has been largely wasted time, in Stone's view. He has little to show for it beyond a G.E.D. and a basic life-skills class. He has had virtually no drug treatment. "For somebody who's got a drug problem, locking 'em up and keeping 'em locked up for years and years doesn't help much," he said in an interview. "The system has failed so many. The politicians all say, 'I'm going to lock 'em all up.' They're not telling people about all the guys they're going to let go who will be more hostile, more bitter, more aggressive and will commit more serious crimes when they get out because of the way they were treated in here."

Stone has contracted hepatitis C, a potentially deadly disease that is rampant in the prison system, and has been unable to get treatment for it. Except for a sister in Virginia Beach, all of his close relatives have died since he has been incarcerated. Now that his release date is near, he is frightened of what lies ahead. He'll get $25 and a bus ticket, and he's on his own. The system provides no aftercare-no one to help him find a job or a place to live, no one to turn to when he is overwhelmed by the challenges of readjustment. "It's scary," he said. "Every day I walk around and think: Who will help me lay the right foundation? Who's going to be there when I get off that Greyhound bus in Tidewater? I'll be 38, but I'll be like a kid, coming out with so many needs, so many wants, so many desires."

Drugs sending more women to prison

The drug-war dragnet is sweeping more and more women into prison. The rate of growth in female admissions is twice the rate for males. There were 1,035 women imprisoned in fiscal yea 1998, which was 11.7 percent of admissions-up from 9.2 percent in 1990. Belinda Adams, 35, is at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women, a campus-like complex in the rolling hills of Goochland County west of Richmond. She is doing 5 years for possession of cocaine, forgery and other charges -- all related to a crack cocaine addiction. Like Stone, she came from a dysfunctional family and was bused as a child. By her mid-teens, she said, "I started looking for an external solution to an internal problem." Since she has been locked up, she has lost her mother to suicide. She has a 3-year-old son who is being raised by a family friend. "I feel I have a pretty large sentence for a nonviolent crime," Adams said. "Drug abuse is an illness," she said. "I'm not trying to justify my crimes in any way, but I feel there must be a better way to give people the help they need."

Treatment hard when drugs plentiful

For most drug prisoners, treatment for their addiction remains a distant goal. Terry Swinson, 38, is doing 25 years at Keen Mountain Correctional Center in Buchanan County for selling $40 worth of crack cocaine-less than 1 gram. He was convicted in Suffolk in 1994. The only program available to him is a G.E.D. class, and he doesn't need that: He's already a high school graduate. He is on a waiting list for a substance abuse class, but there's no such class offered at Keen Mountain.

Another factor working against rehabilitation of drug offenders, say some inmates, is the prevalence of illegal drugs in prison. "It's kind of hard to tell a man to stop doing drugs when the drug dealer's his next-door neighbor," said Geoff Faulkner, 26, of Hopewell, who is doing 9 years at Nottoway Correctional Center for cocaine possession, forgery and related charges. Drugs are "very common" in prison, said Faulkner, who has been unable to get into a drug treatment program. Joseph Lee Garrett, 29, of Fredericksburg, who is doing 52 years on marijuana and LSD conspiracy charges at Wallens Ridge State Prison, said getting drugs in prison is "as easy as in the free world." Garrett said he has been waiting eight years to get into a drug treatment program.

Creativity pays off

Sometimes, inmates find a way to get what they need in spite of the system. Damian Blakley, 20, is doing 10 years for cocaine possession with intent to distribute. He was convicted in Norfolk at age 16. Once in prison, Blakley established a clean record that earned him a Level 1 security classification, the one reserved for the lowest-risk inmates. That got him sent to the Halifax Correctional Unit, a low-security field unit in Southside Virginia that puts road gangs to work on state highways. But there was a downside. There was no drug treatment, no education, no vocational training. "I wanted to get a trade so I can have a skill to get a job once I re-enter society," Blakley said. But a Halifax, I wasn't going to happen. "I felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard spot," Blakley said. "So do you know what I had to do? I had to catch some charges." Blakley deliberately incurred disciplinary charges by refusing to go out on a road crew. As a result, he was transferred to Lawrenceville Correctional Center, a new, privately operated Level 3 facility. The Lawrenceville prison, he said, "is loaded down with trades. Plumbing, interior decorating, a computer course, a greenhouse, carpentry. . . . "Man, it's crazy. It's backwards. You just have to roll with it-or you have to be creative."

Reach Bill Sizemore at 446-2276 or Copyright 2000, Virginian-Pilot Interactive Media



Virginia Governor James Gilmore purports to want to do the will of the people by eliminating car tax and internet taxes but doesn't seem to mind billing the taxpayers for unnecessary and expensive high-security super-max prisons.

James Gilmore was assistant Attorney General of Virginia and through his deputy, Barbara J. Gaden, Gilmore allegedly knew in advance and masterminded the kidnappings of Dr. Marjorie Sloan and Shamema Honzagool Sloan. These kidnappings took place on September 3, 1990 in Bangkok , Thailand and on October 7, 1990 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates respectively. Ever since, Gilmore and other Virginia officials have tried to stop Sam Sloan (son of Dr. Sloan & father of Shamema) from publicizing the fact that his mother and daughter were kidnapped by them. Gilmore, in 1991, obtained a court order signed by Judge Paul M. Peatross of the Albemarle County Circuit Court prohibiting Sam Sloan from stating (or revealing) that his mother and daughter had been kidnapped with the assistance of corrupt Virginia officials.

(Editor's Note:The above allegations are of course still unproved and we in no respect are accusing Gov. Gilmore... we are merely repeating these allegations and wondering....)

The Internet did not exist at this time, but at this time, Sam Sloan has a web site and is publishing material about Gilmore.

And now, Gov. Gilmore has signed a bill making it a crime to "spam" anyone. Stiff sentences and/or heavy fines for this crime will be imposed if it passes, and any published material judged by the Virginia courts to be "spam" will be prosecuted. Generally "spamming" has been mostly associated with mass emailings, but as we sadly know from the past, some laws are too broad and leave the judges to decide on these vague issues.

In addition, out-of-state web sites will not be immune. As has already been done in Michigan by Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, persons violating a state's internet laws will be extradited. But Granholm has only prosecuted crimes of pornography and fraud.-- So far.

What do you think? Is this another attempt at violating our rights? Contact us....


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