RD787 - Department of Corrections Ombuds Study
The purpose of the Virginia Department of Corrections Ombuds Study was to conduct a feasibility study for the establishment of an Office of Ombuds within the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC). DLG Strategic, LLC was contracted to do the study.
Considerations and Conclusions
Based on one-on-one interviews and information from five other ombuds programs, these items were repeated by multiple interviewees or were deemed significant by DLG Strategic.
• There was an overall agreement that the ombuds office should be neutral, an advocate for neither the VADOC nor the incarcerated individuals, but for fairness in general.
• There is a mostly polarized perspective concerning the need for an Office of Ombuds.
• The desire to have an independent office of ombuds was repeatedly addressed, along with repeated concern about credibility of the office if housed within the same department that is establishing the rules and actions being overseen.
• The current VADOC is nationally recognized and has created an ombuds structure with more institutional support than other state structures, which could provide an infrastructure upon which improvements could be built.
• The right staff and experience within an office of ombuds is perceived as an important factor. There is a perceived need to have people in place who have the experience and expertise necessary to handle the responsibilities of such an office.
• There is a question about the effectiveness of the current grievance process. The process is perceived as hard to understand, the timing is difficult to adhere to, and a large percentage of the grievances are determined “unfounded" or “ungrievable" even when the situation might have been perceived as a valid concern.
• None of the states profiled in this report currently have formal inspections as part of their ombuds office, although it does appear in legislation for New Jersey and Arizona. Further research would be required to determine the efficacy and cost of this additional responsibility.
• The cost and staffing of the state ombuds offices varied significantly from the VADOC Fiscal Impact estimated cost of HB 2325. It is worth noting that the expanded responsibility of formal inspections is not currently conducted by the other interviewed states.
• Success metrics supporting the efficacy of other ombuds offices were not determined, and state ombuds expressed frustration about the inability to define what success looks like for the office outside of the incarcerated individuals who they assisted directly.