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Virginia Department of Corrections — Public Safety First

News: Press Release

For Immediate Release: October 29, 2018 - Contact Lisa Kinney, (804) 674-3275

United States Magistrate Judge Recommends Judgement in Favor of Red Onion State Prison in Civil Rights Case

RICHMOND A United States Magistrate Judge has recommended that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia find in favor of Red Onion State Prison employees in a civil rights case brought by an inmate at the prison.

The inmate, Kevin Snodgrass, filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that employees at Red Onion conspired to prevent him from completing the prison’s Step-Down Program in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to petition by filing grievances and informal complaints. The recommendation to find in favor of the Red Onion employees was filed on Friday, October 26.

The Virginia Department of Corrections implemented the Step-Down Program in 2011 to provide a pathway for offenders at the state’s highest security prisons to transition out of restrictive housing and into the general prison population. 

“As stated in my earlier Report and Recommendation, the evidence before the court does not persuade me that any of the delays in Snodgrass’s progression through the Step-Down program were caused by actions taken by the defendants in an effort to retaliate against Snodgrass for exercising his right to petition by filing complaints and grievances,” wrote United States Magistrate Judge Pamela Meade Sargent. “To the contrary, I continue to be persuaded that when Snodgrass encountered a delay, the delay was based on his own actions or his own failure to progress through the program.”

For example, evidence presented at trial in 2017 showed that Snodgrass was returned to segregation after receiving an infraction for possessing an intoxicant. At another point, according to the magistrate’s report, Snodgrass was charged for filing a Prison Rape Elimination Act complaint against a prison employee, claiming that the employee had committed a sexual assault on a date that the employee did not work and was not present at the prison.

Virginia’s Step-Down Program successfully changed the culture and the outlook for offenders and staff at the state’s highest security prisons, Red Onion and Wallens Ridge State Prison.  When the program began in 2011, 511 Virginia offenders were housed in long-term administrative segregation, referred to as Security Level S, at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge.  Today, that number is 72.