RD472 - Adoption of Restorative Housing in the Virginia Department of Corrections FY2022 Report – October 1, 2022
This report has been prepared and submitted to fulfill the requirements of Chapter 516 of the Acts of Assembly of 2019. (*1) This provision requires the Department of Corrections to report certain information pertaining to the agency’s Restrictive Housing and Shared Allied Management programs 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 inmates deemed as a risk to the safety of other incarcerated inmates or prison staff. Typically, inmates were assigned to “Administrative Segregation" due to assaultive and disruptive behaviors at lower security level prisons, escape histories, or extremely violent and notorious crimes. Inmates were managed constitutionally, but with high security controls limiting opportunities for socialization with other inmates. Segregation practices in other jurisdictions often lacked articulable standards allowing progression into lower security levels or general population.
Since 2011, however, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) has remained dedicated to a culture change reducing the use of restrictive housing. VADOC spearheaded an organizational shift, mitigating the risk associated with direct release of inmates in restrictive housing through accelerated reentry skill-building. Even more critically, VADOC adopted the Restrictive Housing Reduction Step-Down Program at Wallens Ridge and Red Onion State Prison. The Step-Down program focuses on risk reduction and risk control. Participants have the opportunity to progress to a general population setting with the use of interactive journaling, therapeutic modules, and programming that is done individually and in group settings. Inmates are evaluated on several different characteristics including behavior, personal hygiene, cell compliance, and demeanor toward staff and other inmates.
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 model to thirteen different states who have toured, observed, and applied aspects of the step-down operations in their own jurisdictions.
In 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. 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."
Virginia’s efforts have continued with several progressive changes in recent years. In April 2016, based upon the documented success of the incentivized step-down process with enhanced conditions of confinement, VADOC began a Restrictive Housing pilot program in four medium security level institutions. The Restrictive Housing program was successfully expanded to all male facilities by November 2018.
In 2019, VADOC began to offer three hours of out-of-cell time to all inmates in the Restrictive Housing program, using a combination of structured and unstructured activities. To facilitate this initiative, all security level 3 facilities and higher have added an Interactive Program Aide position in order to coordinate and deliver these programs. These program aides work with inmates individually and in small group settings to provide a number of pro-social activities, including interactive journaling, cognitive simulation, art activities, reading, TED talks,(*5) and guided group discussion.
In January 2020, furthering its progressive changes, VADOC increased its out-of-cell programming opportunities for inmates in the Restrictive Housing program to offer four or more hours daily. These initiatives are aligned with the goal of offering more meaningful opportunities for inmates to participate in programming, journaling, and positive social interactions with peers and staff in an effort to achieve long-term public safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia.