Tag Archives: Virginia

Ending Solitary Confinement

In 2015, in honor of long-jailed South African activist Nelson Mandela, the United Nations updated and adopted the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, calling them the Nelson Mandela Rules. These rules include guidelines for the use of solitary confinement:

The Mandela Rules, updated in 2015, are a revised minimum standard of UN rules that defines solitary confinement as “the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.” Solitary confinement may only be imposed in exceptional circumstances, and “prolonged” solitary confinement of more than 15 consecutive days is regarded as a form of torture.

United Nations Report on Use of solitary confinement in United States, february 28, 2020

This week, news came of a hunger strike by prisoners in Texas prisons to protest the extensive and prolonger use of solitary confinement. The practice is often used “proactively” by separating gang members and others considered a danger even if they have not committed infractions. According to PBS News Hour, some 3100 prisoners are in solitary confinement in Texas, many of them held that way for more than a decade. This is, under the Mandela rules, torture.

Virginia’s General Assembly is considering a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement using the Mandela rules as its guideline for no more than 15 consecutive days over the course of a 60-day period. I have contacted my representative to let him know that I support this legislation. I also used it as an opportunity to remind him that I am against the death penalty as well. You can read the legislation at the Virginia’s Legislative System website. While you’re there, you can browse other legislation, and if you feel called to contact your representative but aren’t sure who it might be, use the Who’s My Legislator website to find out.

Virginia does not have a good track record when it comes to the use of solitary confinement. Twelve inmates and former inmates filed a lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections, alleging that VDOC has been using semantics to get around its own program to end solitary confinement. The investigation into the death of an inmate in solitary confinement in January 2022 provides some insight into the practice as well as the semantic games: solitary confinement is now called “restorative housing.”

Bucket List Item: Finding More LOVE

I actually don’t have a formal bucket list. But, after doing a bit of traveling around Virginia this year and finding LOVEworks in various places, I have decided that tracking down all 300+ of them would be a great way to continue to explore the Commonwealth.

Here are the five I saw this summer and fall. I wasn’t formally tracking them so am sure I missed some, especially out in Southwest Virginia.

There is a Google map of the various locations. I’ll bet there is one near you. I pass one on I-95 at the Keystone Truck and Tractor Museum in Colonial Heights but haven’t pulled over and don’t dare try a picture!

My “Best of NECC” Post

I know I’m late on this but I spent the weekend getting caught up on my real life and doing some prep for this week.  But, I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned at NECC.  NECC is always overwhelming for me and all the digital stuff (blogs, wikis, flickr, twitter, etc.) really just make it worse.  Too much noise.  So, my strategy this year was to pre-register for sessions and to volunteer, both in an attempt to make NECC smaller and more manageable.  It turned out to be a good strategy…I didn’t have to worry about getting a seat and I had a chance to really connect with new people. I found the poster sessions at which I volunteered on Monday morning terrific. The presenters were all HP grant winners, and their enthusiasm about their students ‘ learning was intoxicating! Real teachers, real students, real stories with some excellent action research to show that their students had not only been engaged but learned something as well.

At the last minute, I ended up doing two hands-on workshops to fill in for another presenter. While it took away from some of my own time at NECC, I found the experience quite enlightening and encouraging. Both the sessions focused on a tool and its connection to content. In my hurry to pull together the sessions, I focused on the tool with less concern about the content. (In my defense, one workshop had participants making videos in just three hours so I was a little worried about getting it done.) What I am pleased about was the excellent feedback I got from the participants. Most were happy with the experience, but several reminded me that there had been content and that was really why they came with their interest in the tool being a secondary concern. Good for them! I certainly agree and was reminded of how easy it is for techies like me to fall into the tool trap, forgetting that we are dealing with educators. If I have a criticism of NECC, it sometimes seems to be more generally focused on technology tools rather than how teachers might make effective use of them in their classrooms.  Maybe that’s the point of a tech conference, but for those of us who have to go back to K-12 teachers, the difference between twitter and plurk are probably not that important.

The best session I attended was the Technology Leadership Forum. Its focus was on emerging technologies but most of the speakers were from school divisions that had adopted the technologies so they could talk about how the tools intersected with teaching and learning. I was particularly intrigued by Camilla Gagliolo’s presentation on using Nintendo DS2s in the elementary school.  I’m not a gamer but may have to invest in one of these as they have curriculum related software and some potentially powerful applications.  (OK, see how easy it is to slip into the tools discussion!)

The keynoter for the forum was Richard Baraniuk, Rice University, talking about The Future of Open Courseware.  This is a topic close to my own heart since I sit on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Open Education Foundation (VOEF), begun by Mark Burnet, who is even more passionate about it than I am.  Rich began Connexions, an open courseware compendium.  It’s an amazing collection of online materials, mostly written in the form of textbooks.  They can, if you like, be printed and bound, for the cost of about $20!  It’s an amazing example of collaboration, and I found myself babbling to him about our Virginia project.   I sat on a Joint Commission on Technology and Science Committee last year where we discussed the possibilities of open source textbooks and this year, the work continues with anyone who is interested encouraged to get involved.

VOEF has established a pilot site where we are collecting resources related to Virginia standards.  If you’re intrigued and would like to get involved, just send me an email and Mark and I would be happy to talk to you.