Lawmakers demand for deeper investigation of Virginia prison’s hypothermia hospitalizations

Democratic state lawmakers expressed their concern this week regarding a recent report that revealed numerous hypothermia hospitalizations and other suspicious conditions at a Virginia prison. They believe that these findings warrant further investigation.

Lawmakers are determined to hold Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration accountable and are urging a newly established prisons watchdog to investigate the revelations outlined in an Associated Press report. The report uncovered a shocking number of hypothermia-related hospitalizations at the Marion Correctional Treatment Center, with at least 13 cases documented over a span of three years.

Medical providers at the prison expressed concern about the temperatures, as indicated by records obtained by the AP. Additionally, a long-tenured employee stated that they would not be surprised to hear of complaints about hypothermia. Previous reports have already outlined allegations of freezing conditions inside the facility, with instances of toilet water freezing over.

The Virginia Department of Corrections has recently refused to respond to the AP’s inquiries regarding the prison. They cited ongoing litigation concerning the death of an inmate, which involves allegations of substandard conditions and deliberate exposure to cold. Furthermore, the DOC did not acknowledge the AP’s request to interview a responsible official at the facility.

In a written statement, Senator L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth expressed her profound concern regarding the current state of our Virginia prison system. She emphasized the need for Governor and the Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide an explanation on how this situation unfolded and what measures are being taken to address it.

In an interview, Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell expressed his concern over the report’s findings, describing them as “disturbing.” Like other lawmakers, he intends to directly approach the DOC leadership to obtain further clarification.

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He expressed his disbelief, stating that the conditions depicted in the article resembled those of a Soviet gulag rather than an American prison.

Surovell, a representative from Fairfax County, along with other lawmakers, proposed that the Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman, which is currently vacant, should address the issues surrounding temperature and hypothermia.

Last year, concerns about the facility’s conditions came to light following a lawsuit and a special grand jury investigation. In a report by NPR, the death of inmate Charles Givens was highlighted, along with the findings of the grand jury. While the panel did not find enough evidence for an indictment, it did describe the conditions at the prison as “inhumane and deplorable.”

Mark Krudys, the attorney representing Kym Hobbs, the sister of Givens who filed the lawsuit, refrained from providing any comments regarding the statements made by the Virginia lawmakers, citing the ongoing legal proceedings. The Department of Corrections (DOC) did not respond to two email requests seeking a comment.

In a written statement, Youngkin’s press secretary, Christian Martinez, expressed deep concern over the findings of the AP report. However, Martinez also clarified that the administration had verified with the DOC that there have been no instances of hypothermia treatment at the Marion prison since 2021. It should be noted that Givens’ last hospitalization for hypothermia occurred in December 2021.

“The Corrections Ombudsman’s inquiry will be fully complied with by the Department,” stated Martinez.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed and Youngkin approved a measure to establish the ombudsman’s office. Supporters of the measure, which the DOC opposed as unnecessary, argued that it would finally provide the much-needed independent oversight of the agency.

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According to Maggie Sotos, a spokesperson for the inspector general’s office, the division will be composed of six employees, including an ombudsman and five specialists.

Democratic Senator Dave Marsden, who has extensive experience in corrections and sponsored the ombudsman bill, acknowledges that inmates and detainees often complain and sometimes exaggerate their grievances. However, he expresses deep concern about the findings reported by the AP, stating that they raise significant questions and are exactly the kind of issues that the ombudsman’s office should address.

Marsden expressed his intention to personally send a formal inquiry regarding the AP’s findings to a high-ranking official at the Department of Corrections (DOC).

Del. Holly Seibold of Fairfax County expressed her outrage at the findings reported by the AP. She has been actively working on prison reform bills and intends to write a formal request to the head of the DOC for more information regarding the hypothermia cases. Furthermore, she plans to question DOC officials in a legislative forum.

Telephone messages seeking comment from two GOP lawmakers representing the district including the prison, Senator Travis Hackworth and Delegate Jed Arnold, were not responded to.

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