RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections has undergone a major cultural shift in recent years, transforming into a research-based organization aggressively focused on offenders’ successful reentry back into their communities. Results are now in showing the success of efforts to combat recidivism and increase public safety through a new environment at the VADOC.
In 2010, the VADOC began thoroughly examining its security measures, programs, and human resources, and their combined effectiveness in reducing recidivism. Today, Virginia has the second lowest recidivism rate in the country.
To measure the success of the VADOC’s efforts, the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute has conducted an anonymous survey for three years in a row as part of a National Institute of Corrections initiative. VADOC efforts covered by the survey include the use of evidence based practices throughout the Department, the use of dialogue skills among staff, the Department’s focus on reentry, cohesion between the Department’s institution staff (prisons, work units) and community staff (probation and parole) and the creation of a healing environment for staff and offenders at the Department.
“We have made significant changes at the Department of Corrections over the last four years, and having our progress measured by a third party gives us crucial feedback with the necessary level of impartiality,” said Harold Clarke, Virginia Department of Corrections Director. “We engaged the esteemed Urban Institute to survey the Department because they are known for the high quality of their research.”
The four key domains of the Urban Institute survey were support for reentry; impressions of the VADOC; the VADOC’s healing environment; and workplace diversity. Data sources included the staff survey, operations and performance data, and a small number of process interviews. Surveys were anonymous, and the Department does not receive the data; Urban Institute researchers receive the data directly.
Key preliminary findings of the third annual survey include:
- Strong support among staff for the use of evidence based practices and reentry services for offenders
- Support for organizational “oneness” – acting as a team across the state
- Significant organizational commitment among staff
- Support and commitment for the Department’s healing environment initiative
- Effective use of dialogue skills among staff
- 77% of employees agreed or strongly agreed they work in a dangerous place, but about 64% feel safe in their job overall and more than two-thirds feel safe when working among offenders
- 64% of employees agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that their work unit comes close to being a healing environment – up from 42% in the first year’s survey and 61% in the second annual survey
- In all three annual surveys, 80-90% of employees expressed strong support for offenders’ access to programs (job skills, GED, parenting, substance abuse, mental health) and reentry services
For years, a primary focus of the VADOC was command and control of offenders, while treatment and programming were secondary. Safety and security remain the foundation of what the Department does, but programming and reentry efforts are now focused on long-term results and what research shows to be effective.
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.