Virginia AG requests DOJ investigation of regional jail
Virginia AG requests DOJ investigation of regional jail

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring [official website] on Friday sent a letter [text] to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] requesting and investigation into the Hampton Roads Regional Jail [official website] in Portsmouth after the deaths of two inmates—60-year-old Henry Stewart and 24-year-old mentally ill Jamycheal Mitchell. Stewart had filled out [AP report] an emergency grievance form at the jail on August 4, saying he had two blackouts in less than 24 hours and was unable to hold down food or water, before succumbing to death two days later. According to the grievance form, a nurse determined Stewart’s concerns “not to be an emergency.” According to the medical examiner, Mitchell died of heart failure accompanied by severe weight loss. Mitchell, who was jailed in April 2015, was ordered to be sent to a mental facility, but he was never sent there because his paperwork was stashed away in a hospital staff’s desk drawer. According to a lawsuit filed by Mitchell’s family, other inmate-witnesses reported that correctional officers physically abused Mitchell and withheld food from him. Herring is urging the DOJ Civil Rights Division to investigate whether systemic constitutional violations are being committed at the jail, either before or after conviction, under the Eighth and Fourteenth [LII backgrounder] Amendments. He stated he is requesting the independent investigation because previous investigations have provided an “incomplete picture” and hopes the DOJ can shed light on steps that the jail should take to bring about any needed systemic change.

The rights of incarcerated individuals are an important and contentious topic worldwide. In the US, the issue is most acutely expressed in the Guantanamo Bay controversy. Late last month Vice President Joe Biden renewed hopes and expectations [JURIST report] that the Guantanamo Bay prison will be closed before President Barack Obama leaves office. A week earlier, the DOJ announced the transfer [JURIST report] of 15 Guantanamo detainees to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid protests from US Senator Kelly Ayotte who stated that closing the facility would not be in the best interests [JURIST report] of the country and would pose a safety risk. In June, a report indicated that China harvests [JURIST report] thousands of organs from non-consenting prisoners yearly. In May, over 2000 prisoners were released [JURIST report] from Zimbabwe’s prison system due to overcrowding and food shortages. Also in May, Amnesty International [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that dozens of detainees in South Sudan were being held in inhumane conditions.