An inmate at Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail filed two civil suits against the jail and Russell Gilkison, the jail’s superintendent, last month claiming various levels of mistreatment of inmates.
The two hand-written suits filed by Timothy Smith were submitted to the Shenandoah County Circuit Court in January.
The first suit asks the jail to allow inmates to purchase “books, Bibles [and] magazines” at RSW. Smith wrote that other jails have lost suits for not allowing inmates to purchase books. Smith also requested $500,000 in monetary damages, claiming his religious rights were violated.
In a response and request for summary judgment, the jail said that Smith is correct that inmates are not allowed to purchase books, magazines, Bibles or newspapers but it does not prevent access to them.
“At RSW Regional Jail, inmates are not permitted to purchase outside reading material of any kind,” the jail’s response states. “This policy is in place to minimize the risk of contraband entering the facility, including opioids and other illegal drugs.”
The response explains that the jail provides inmates with a free electronic tablet that has more than 60,000 free books, including religious materials. If inmates request religious materials not available on the readers, the response states, the jail will provide the requested materials, free of charge to inmates.
Smith’s claim was not an explicit First Amendment claim but his First Amendment right does not cover purchasing religious materials but his ability to practice his religion, the response states. Not being allowed to purchase outside materials doesn’t make it more difficult for inmates to practice their religious beliefs, the jail argued.
The second suit Smith brought included two other inmates and alleged the jail is preventing inmates from filing grievances for mistreatment.
“[T]he treatment at this facility of inmates is horrific,” Smith wrote. “Instead of providing a grievance to inmates at the initial phase of complaint — inmates are ‘forced’ to file an inmate request form to seek and obtain an actual grievance form.”
Smith and the other inmates claim that 95% of grievances are not filed against the jail because inmates have to file an additional form. They requested that the initial inmate request form be removed, that inmates be allowed to file a grievance form and $1 million in monetary damages divided between the three plaintiffs.
In response, the jail explained that inmates “have no constitutional entitlement or due process interest in access to a grievance procedure, much less to a particular grievance process.”
Jails are allowed to set up prerequisites for inmates to file grievances according to the Virginia Administrative Code. Jails are required to put grievance procedures in place as an outlet for inmates to express concerns but are not prevented from putting some prior requirements in place — such as an inmate request form.
The jail asked the court to dismiss both suits with prejudice — preventing the plaintiffs from bringing them back. The court has not ruled on the requests.