RD464 - The Reduction of Restrictive Housing in the Virginia Department of Corrections FY2020 Report – October 1, 2020
This report has been prepared and submitted to fulfill the requirements of Chapter 516 of the Acts of Assembly of 2020. (*1) This provision requires the Department of Corrections to report certain information pertaining to the agency’s restrictive housing and Shared Allied Management populations to the Governor, the Chairmen of the House Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety and the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, and the Clerks of the House of Delegates and the Senate by October 1st of each year.(*2)
Over the past 20 years, prison systems across the nation have increasingly relied on restrictive housing as a management status for offenders deemed as a risk to the safety of other incarcerated offenders or prison staff. Typically, offenders were assigned to “Administrative Segregation" due to assaultive and disruptive behaviors at lower security level prisons, escape histories, or extremely violent and notorious crimes. Offenders were managed constitutionally but traditionally with high security control limiting socialization and lack of design for progression into lower security levels or general population. Since 2011, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) has remained dedicated to developing a culture change and reducing the use of restrictive housing. VADOC spearheaded an organizational shift and managed the initial risk in the institutional setting to accelerate reentry skill-building. The Wallens Ridge and Red Onion State Prison Restrictive Housing Reduction Step-Down Program ensures people returning to the community have the tools they need to succeed. By focusing on risk reduction in addition to traditional risk control, offenders progress to a general population setting through an interactive journaling series utilized independently and in group settings, through the use of therapeutic modules and programming. Offenders are evaluated on several different characteristics including behavior, personal hygiene, cell compliance, and demeanor toward staff and other offenders.
VADOC’s reform efforts have been nationally recognized. In 2013, the Southern Legislative Conference presented Virginia the State Transformation in Action Recognition (STAR) Award, for its diligent work toward reducing restrictive housing. In 2014, the General Assembly passed Senate Joint Resolution 184 “commending the Virginia Department of Corrections for its outstanding leadership and dedication to public safety in administering the Step Down program." (*3) In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice, in its Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing, (*4) highlighted five jurisdictions that have undertaken particularly significant reforms in recent years, featuring Red Onion State Prison. Virginia has served as a support to thirteen different states who have toured, observed, and applied aspects of the stepdown operations in their own jurisdictions.
In December 2016, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera)—in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA)—selected Virginia as one of five new states to join the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative (SAS Initiative). In recognition of the infrastructure that VADOC already had in place as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing, Vera offered to provide targeted technical assistance to VADOC. Vera assisted VADOC with its reform efforts, provided recommendations, and developed a partnership of learning from cultural reform. The Vera Institute of Justice Report highlighted “Great Successes" of Virginia’s Restrictive Housing Reforms and offered support for future initiatives. Vera found that VADOC staff reported “witnessing improved behavior, a calmer environment and higher staff morale in the Restrictive Housing Units."
Based upon the documented success of this incentivized step-down process, with enhanced conditions of confinement, VADOC began a Restrictive Housing Pilot Program in four medium security level institutions in April 2016. This program was successfully expanded to all male facilities by November 2018. From January 2016 to June 2020, VADOC decreased its restrictive housing population statewide by 60% (-908).