WHO’S SETTING THE STANDARDS?:

Profile of Ronald J. Angelone

Ronald J. Angelone, the controversial and heavy-handed director of Virginia’s Department of Corrections and current chairman of the American Correctional Association’s (ACA’s) Standards Committee, enforces and promotes prison policies that have resulted in deaths and violate the Constitution.

Mr. Angelone operates Virginia’s prisons behind a veil of secrecy. As The Washington Post recently reported, Mr. Angelone denied a request from a Connecticut state agency, the Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, to inspect Wallens Ridge State Prison in southwest VA. Part of the agency’s investigation would have included probes into the deaths of two mentally ill CT prisoners. One of those prisoners died after being repeatedly shocked with a stun gun and then placed in restraints. In a statement Mr. Angelone responded, "I’m not about to roll the Virginia Department of Corrections over for every group in Connecticut that has a political ax to grind."1 A state agency official stated that their intention was simply to find out if people are safe and well treated.

During his 30 year career, Mr. Angelone has left a trail of prisoner neglect, improperly trained staff, and dangerous use of force policies. Prior to his current position, Mr. Angelone served as director of Nevada’s troubled bureau of prisons until 1994. An investigation of NV’s Ely State Prison (ESP), from July 1993 to June 1994, discovered that there had been 50 incidents in which prisoners had been shot with firearms, 20 incidents of the use of chemical agents against prisoners, and 128 incidents involving "hands on" use of force.2 In 1995, the new director gave sworn testimony regarding records that showed only eight reported incidents of the use of firearms, more than a five-fold decrease. The use of chemicals fell to a fraction of its previous level and the number of "hands on" use of force incidents decreased nearly 50 percent.3 The new director’s testimony cited his recognition of the past improper practices at ESP and his efforts to improve them. ESP’s warden also testified that the failure to train staff properly had resulted in some cases of "completely inappropriate" conduct, for example, "an inmate [who walked] on the grass was shot at." Both men faulted corrections practices that had occurred under Director Angelone.

When Mr. Angelone took control of VA’s prison system he brought with him many of the same dangerous policies and practices. Correctional officers in VA now carry guns in housing units and recreational yards and have access to an array of stun devices that electrically shock prisoners when activated. An editorial published in The Virginian-Pilot, discussing Mr. Angelone’s track record, declared that " if the price is vindictive or even abusive treatment of prisoners — while hurdles are placed in the way of public oversight — then the price is too high and he should go."4

The inhumane prison conditions fostered by Director Angelone are not just a concern for the citizens of Virginia. Mr. Angelone’s position as Chair of the ACA’s Standards Committee affects the policies and practices of all prisons and jails in the United States. In choosing Angelone as Chair of its Standards Committee, the ACA demonstrates that its membership simply rubber stamps irresponsible and indefensible policies and practices.

Endnotes:
1. Timberg, C. (2001, July 25). Connecticut Pulls Prisoners From Wallens Ridge. The Washington Post, pp. B01.
2. Special Statistical Report Concerning the Security Improvement at Ely State Prison, January 30, 1996.
3. Id.
4. Virginian-Pilot Editorial Board (2000, May 14). Super-max Prisons Get Scrutiny from Feds and Human Rights Groups. The Virginian-Pilot.