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Case Name Thorpe v. Virginia Department of Corrections PC-VA-0024
Docket / Court 3:19-cv-00332 ( E.D. Va. )
State/Territory Virginia
Case Type(s) Disability Rights-Pub. Accom.
Prison Conditions
Attorney Organization ACLU Chapters (any)
Case Summary
On May 6, 2019, twelve prisoners at the Red Onion and Wallens Ridge supermax prisons, who had each been in solitary confinement for between two and twenty-three years, filed this putative class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the ... read more >
On May 6, 2019, twelve prisoners at the Red Onion and Wallens Ridge supermax prisons, who had each been in solitary confinement for between two and twenty-three years, filed this putative class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The plaintiffs sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and the wardens of both Red Onion and Wallens Ridge under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The plaintiffs - represented by private counsel and the ACLU of Virginia - sought declaratory and injunctive relief in addition to damages. The plaintiffs claimed breach of an earlier settlement agreement and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, the Eighth Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The plaintiff alleged that VDOC implemented a renamed version of the “Phase Program,” which was supposedly shut down in an earlier settlement, that “warehoused” prisoners in solitary confinement without any opportunity to re-enter general population conditions.

The earlier settlement had ended the "Phase Program" at the Mecklenburg Correctional Center. A class action lawsuit, Brown v. Hutto, was filed in 1981, alleging inhumane conditions and constitutional violations by VDOC. A VDOC investigation revealed that Mecklenburg could not fill its solitary confinement beds with its own prisoners. Instead, the prison had solicited other prisons to refer their prisoners for solitary confinement at Mecklenburg. Unlike the Special Management Unit, which housed prisoners unlikely to be reintroduced to the general population, the "Phase Program" track was designed to allow solitary confinement prisoners to reenter the general population by earning "privileges" for good behavior. But in practice, prisoners were very rarely phased down and prison staff could revoke privileges without oversight or appeals. The parties settled the case in 1985, with VDOC agreeing to end the Phase Program and to not start a similar program in the future.

In this case, the Red Onion and Wallens Ridge prisoners alleged that the Step-Down Program was used to keep prisoners in solitary confinement in order to utilize solitary confinement space and justify the high cost of keeping both supermax prisons open. This program was alleged to be a new version of the Phase Program used at the since-demolished Mecklenburg facility. The prisoners alleged that staff at each facility were not trained or knowledgeable about the specific requirements of the Step-Down Program, leading them to keep prisoners in solitary confinement despite evidence that they should be stepped down to the general population. These decisions were not subject to meaningful review, and the review process was not appealable. The prisoners alleged this program caused significant mental and physiological harm to each of them and was implemented without any scientific basis.

On May 31, 2019, VDOC filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. On June 14, 2019, the remaining defendants also filed a motion to dismiss. Both motions alleged that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim and that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. As of October 2, 2019, District Judge Robert E. Payne has not issued a decision on either of these motions. The case is ongoing.

A documentary about the solitary confinement conditions of Red Onion can be found here.

Olivia Wheeling - 10/02/2019


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Due Process
Equal Protection
Defendant-type
Corrections
Disability
Mental impairment
General
Administrative segregation
Conditions of confinement
Disciplinary segregation
Grievance Procedures
Protective custody
Rehabilitation
Solitary confinement/Supermax (conditions or process)
Medical/Mental Health
Mental health care, general
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12111 et seq.
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Section 504 (Rehabilitation Act), 29 U.S.C. § 701
Defendant(s) Virginia Department of Corrections
Warden
Warden
Plaintiff Description Twelve prisoners at the Red Onion and Wallens Ridge facilities who have each been held in solitary confinement for at least two years.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Chapters (any)
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Pending
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filing Year 2019
Case Ongoing Yes
Case Listing PC-VA-0001 : Brown v. Hutto (E.D. Va.)
Additional Resources
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  Civil Rights Injunctions Over Time: A Case Study of Jail and Prison Court Orders
N.Y.U. Law Review
Date: May 2006
By: Margo Schlanger (Washington University Faculty)
Citation: 81 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 550 (2006)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  Judicial Policy Making and the Modern State: How the Courts Reformed America's Prisons
Book
Date: Jan. 1, 1998
By: Malcolm M. Feeley & Edward Rubin (UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law & Vanderbilt School of Law Faculty Faculty)
Citation: (1998)
[ Detail ]

Docket(s)
3:19-cv-332 (E.D. Va.)
PC-VA-0024-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/30/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PC-VA-0024-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/06/2019
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
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Judges Payne, Robert E. (E.D. Va.) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Agraharkar, Vishal Mahendra (Virginia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Cox, Alyson Michelle (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Heilman, Eden Brooke (Virginia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Kalmann, Maxwell Jacob (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Levin, Daniel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
McAhren, Kristen (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Pell, Owen Cary (New York) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Wilson, Timothy Lawrence Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-0001 | PC-VA-0024-9000
Defendant's Lawyers O'Shea, Margaret Hoehl (Virginia) show/hide docs
PC-VA-0024-9000

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