HD27 - Correctional Program Standards in Virginia's Prisons

Executive Summary:
The Corrections Subcommittee of the Virginia State Crime Commission appointed a special task force to study correctional program standards pursuant to House Joint Resolution 518 (Van Landingham). The Task Force was chaired by Delegate Marian Van Landingham, with Rev. George Ricketts and Senator Janet Howell of the Crime Commission also serving on the Task Force. Membership included two sheriffs, a circuit court Judge, a commonwealth attorney, the current and a past chairman of the Board of Corrections, several treatment specialists, and program staff of both the Department of Corrections and the Department of Correctional Education.

The group divided its work into three main subcommittees: Inmate Services, Transition Services, and Resources. The Task Force adopted as a frame of reference the proposals set forth in HB 1994 (1993-Clement) which established in statute (§ 53.1-32.1) a plan for incrementally implementing program targets for inmates to be completed by July, 1998. The statute calls for 40 hours a week in programming. The subsequent consultant's study recommended a mix of work-50%, education-25%, and treatment-25% and identified the number of work, education, and treatment slots which would be needed to meet the target of 40 hours in 1998.

The Task Force found that the gap in programs slots needed has widened over the past two years. Staff cuts in 1994 and 1995 plus the unprecedented growth in the prison population has had an adverse impact on the amount of programming available in correctional institutions. The Task Force attempted to address these issues through its recommendations.

The Task Force found that work opportunities for inmates were limited. Institutional work assignments for inmates have decreased as the inmate population has increased. There are not enough institutional jobs available for the number of inmates in any one facility; furthermore, the length of time spent in an institutional work assignment averages only 6 to 10 hours per week. Correctional Enterprises has limited jobs as well. Although they are currently pursuing contracts to expand their job opportunities, the demand far outstrips the current slots available. The Task Force recommended increasing inmate work gangs for public service projects. Another recommendation would eliminate procurement and personnel barriers for Enterprises to make them more competitive in bidding on contracts.

Program staff cuts in the institutions has limited the number of substance abuse and sex offender treatment slots available to eligible inmates. The Task Force recommended increasing resources to expand substance abuse treatment services to 10% of the eligible inmate population in FY97 and 15% in FY98. The Task Force also recommended the restoration of two therapeutic communities for sex offender treatment which were cut in the last budget. The Task Force expressed concerns regarding the lack of appropriate treatment available for chronic mentally ill female inmates. The Task Force has endorsed an earlier proposal to open a unit at the Marian mental health facility which currently houses male chronic mentally ill inmates. The Task Force also recommended the restoration of the pilot at Staunton for behaviorally disordered inmates which was eliminated to provide additional protective custody beds. The program, "Breaking Barriers," which is provided for inmates in the initial stages of incarceration and addresses adjustment to incarceration has been conducted at several major institutions. The Task Force recommended a small amount of funding to cover the maintenance costs for materials which is not in the DOC budget at this time.

Educational programs at the adult correctional institutions have growing waiting lists. Recognizing the need to provide inmates with marketable job skills upon release, the Task Force recommended that resources be added to the Department of Correctional Education to reduce the academic/LIP waiting lists by 25% and reduce the waiting lists for vocational education classes by 50%.

The Task Force discussed at length the utilization of volunteer resources to augment inmate program resources. Testimony was given regarding the increased difficulty of volunteers gaining access in the institutions. The Task Force expressed support for the Department to develop reasonable policies which balance the benefits of volunteers with the security needs of the institutions. Four volunteer directors, one in each region, are recommended to be added to assist in recruitment and training of volunteers within the institutions in the region. The Task Force felt strongly that volunteers are a valuable resource, which are needed to augment the staff of Corrections, particularly in view of recent staff cuts.

Successful transition of inmates from the institution back into their communities is a critical component of the correctional system. The Task Force found that pre-release services are currently offered in a disparate and inconsistent manner. The Department of Corrections has a "Life Skills" program, the Department of Correctional Education conducts a "Social Skills" program, and some community- based organizations, such as Virginia Cares" offer workshops to Inmates dealing with adjustment to release and reintegration in the community. Discussions were held on how to achieve the maximum utilization of available resources for these services and insure consistency of delivery. No consensus was reached and the Task Force recommended that JLARC examine pre-release services in the adult correctional institutions and determine if consolidation of these services under one agency would improve delivery and insure that all inmates exiting the system are provided comparable programs to assist in their transition.

On the post-release side, the Task Force found that there is a dearth of services. Included in the JLARC study recommendation is a directive to develop recommendations for expansion of community capacity for ex-offenders. The Task Force also recommended the addition of three transition specialists in the DOC regional offices. Tidewater currently has one. The Task Force recommended the addition of several probation and parole officers, surveillance officers, and clerical support to assist in the supervision of offenders returning to the community.

To facilitate employability of offenders, the Task Force recommended the addition of five vocational assessors be added in the Department of Correctional Education. To expedite job finding strategies, the Task Force directed the Virginia Employment Commission, the Department of Correctional Education, and Correctional Enterprises to execute a memorandum of agreement which allow Inmates scheduled for release to register with the VEC at least one month prior to their release date.

Finally, to insure that inmates with chronic medical or mental health problems are referred to the appropriate health service upon release, the Task Force recommended that the Department of Corrections, the Department of Mental Health. Mental Retardation & Substance Abuse Services, the Department of Health, and the Department of Medical Assistance Services establish an interagency task force to develop procedures for offender referrals upon release from incarceration.