RICHMOND — Virginia is one of five states recently added to the list of participants in the Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative facilitated by the Vera Institute of Justice. The objective of the program is to reduce the use of segregation or restrictive housing in prisons.
Participating states will be assessed on how they’re using segregation. They will also work with Vera to develop viable strategies to safely reduce that use, and assist with implementing these changes. Guiding each state will be a multi-disciplinary team of experts in mental health and correctional reform along with the initiative’s advisory council and practitioners of corrections systems that have successfully reduced the use of restrictive housing.
“We are delighted to be selected for this initiative and we welcome the opportunity to learn and share ideas with Vera and participating departments,” said VADOC Director Harold Clarke. “Since 2011, the Virginia Department of Corrections has made significant progress in reducing the use of restrictive housing. While we are pleased with the progress we have made, including recognition by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Council of State Government’s Southern Legislative Conference, we also know that there is more work to be done.”
Director Clarke points to Virginia’s award winning Administrative Segregation Step-Down Program as proof of the VADOC’s commitment to reevaluating the use and effectiveness of restrictive housing. The Step-Down Program successfully changed the culture and the outlook for offenders and staff at the state’s highest security prisons, Red Onion and Wallens Ridge, providing incentives and a clear pathway for offenders to transition out of restrictive housing and into the general prison population. When the program began in 2011, 511 Virginia offenders were housed in long-term administrative segregation, referred to as Security Level S, at Red Onion and Wallens Ridge. Today, only 174 offenders are housed in Level S at those facilities.
The success of the Administrative Segregation Step-Down Program moved the department to create a 70 member task force in 2014 to address the use of disciplinary (short-term) restrictive housing in lower level facilities. Being added to Vera’s Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative is yet another move in the right direction for the VADOC.
“The response to this initiative demonstrates that states across the nation and political spectrum are committed to taking on criminal justice reform, including a focus on the conditions of confinement,” said Fred Patrick, director of Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections. “We are thrilled to now be working with ten jurisdictions to not only improve the safety and well-being of individuals, prisons, and communities in their states, but also to model promising practices for others who share this vision.”
The 21-month partnership will begin in early 2017, and is supported by a $2.2 million grant awarded to Vera earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. The states will provide a match up to $50,000.
More information on the VADOC can be found at www.vadoc.virginia.gov.