RICHMOND — At 2.8 percent, the percentage of offenders in restrictive housing in Virginia prisons is among the lowest in the United States.
A report released on November 30 by the Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School showed that Virginia’s rate of 2.8 percent of the state’s 30,412 offenders in restrictive housing was the 9th lowest rate among the 48 reporting jurisdictions.
“Our staff has worked incredibly hard to reduce the use of restrictive housing, transforming a prison built as a super max into a facility with a majority of offenders in general population which now includes a school,” said Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “We started with the most challenging, long-term segregation settings and are now applying what we’ve learned to pilot programs affecting short-term segregation throughout the state.”
In October of 2011, the VADOC initiated reforms at the state’s highest-security prisons to change the culture and motivate positive change. As a result, the Administrative Segregation Step-Down Program was created, giving high-risk offenders the opportunity to work their way out of restrictive housing and into the general prison population.
Since the launch the department’s award winning Administrative Step-Down Program at Wallens Ridge State Prison and Red Onion State Prison, the Virginia Department of Corrections has steadily made adjustments and improvements to reduce the use of restrictive housing while enhancing lasting public safety.
“If a risk is going to be taken with an offender, we want to take it ourselves on the inside,” said Deputy Director for Reentry and Programs Scott Richeson. “Offenders need to be able to successfully reenter society as well-adjusted, productive citizens. And even those with life sentences benefit greatly from the reduced use of restrictive housing because they have an impact on the prison community.”
Based upon the success the Administrative Step-Down Program had on long-term restrictive housing, in 2014 the department developed a 70 member task force to address the use of disciplinary (short-term) restrictive housing in lower level facilities and develop system-wide strategies to effectively motivate offenders toward successful reintegration into the general prison population.
In April of 2016, the department launched a Restrictive Housing Pilot Program in four low to medium level institutions. The pilot program is designed to create a unified approach to reduce the need for restrictive housing while at the same time decreasing risk, increasing safety and enhancing the likelihood of a successful return to general population. The program also addresses improved conditions of confinement in the form of individual and group programming, methods to earn good time credit, additional recreation, increased daily out of cell opportunities and behavioral goals for progression out of restrictive housing and increased reviews by a multi-disciplinary team.
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.