Solitary Confinement

Filed - September 4, 2018

Reyes v. Clarke


Mr. Reyes is a prisoner in Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison who has been in solitary confinement in a small, concrete cell for between 22 and 24 hours a day, every day, for 12 and a half years.

He is routinely deprived of basic needs, including showers, recreation, and even meals. On the few occasions when he has been allowed to leave his cell, he must submit to humiliating cavity searches.

He has lost nearly 50 pounds while in solitary confinement, and his mental health has deteriorated greatly — the predictable outcome of being isolated for approximately 300 times the outer limits of international human rights law.

Mr. Reyes has remained in solitary confinement solely because he cannot complete the prison’s mandatory Step-Down Program, which requires prisoners to complete self-reflective journals and other lessons before they can enter general population.

Mr. Reyes cannot read or speak English, yet that is the only language in which the materials are provided. Additionally, Mr. Reyes has virtually no ability to communicate with other people or access mental health services.

The MacArthur Justice Center partnered with the ACLU of Virginia to file a lawsuit alleging violations of Mr. Reyes’ constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as federal anti-discrimination law.

On January 15, 2021, we finalized a settlement agreement with the Virginia Department of Corrections that, among other things, will provide language access for people incarcerated in Virginia prisons.

The agreement was the result of a lawsuit on behalf of Nicolas Reyes, who spent 13 years in solitary confinement due to a language barrier. As part of the settlement, the VDOC agreed to create and adopt a language access policy within five months of the settlement that will ensure all people with limited English skills are provided meaningful access to departmental facilities, programs, and services.