RICHMOND — As the Virginia Department of Corrections continues its groundbreaking reforms in the use of restrictive housing for the state’s inmates, a report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice provides insight into Virginia’s past, present and future initiatives to address and minimize the use of restrictive housing.
Vera’s final report of its Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative (SAS) acknowledges VADOC’s “pioneering” Restrictive Housing Reduction Step-Down Program (SDP), which was launched in 2011. The report also analyzes VADOC’s Restrictive Housing Pilot Program (RHPP)—introduced in 2016—and its planned roll out to all facilities.
“I appreciate Vera recognizing the commitment made by VADOC in providing second chances, for even those offenders deemed to be the most dangerous, through initiatives like our Step-Down Program and Restrictive Housing Pilot Program,” said VADOC Director Harold Clarke.
The goal of the SAS initiative was to allow Vera to assess how VADOC uses restrictive housing and provide recommendations on ways the department can safely reduce its use. Vera launched the partnership in April of 2017. The assessment process involved an initial meeting, site visits, preliminary recommendations, additional site visits, and a final meeting to close out the partnership.
The report shares both findings and recommendations regarding the SDP, RHPP, Culture Change and Reducing Restrictive Housing for People with Mental Health Needs. It also acknowledges reforms developed and implemented during the period of Vera’s assessment including the launch of the Secure Diversionary Treatment Program (SDTP), expansion of Shared Allied Management (SAMs) Units and the expansion of the Restrictive Housing Pilot Program (RHPP) to facilities statewide.
“Our staff has worked extremely hard to develop new and innovative reforms to address the needs of some of our more challenging populations,” said Tori Raiford, Chief of Restrictive Housing and Serious Mental Illness. “The programs already in place and those we seek to introduce in the future are indicative of this agency’s commitment to reform.”
Vera’s findings include the reduction of offenders in restrictive housing settings system-wide (5 percent to 3 percent of the total population) from 2016 to 2018. In addition, Vera found that VADOC staff reporting witnessing improved behavior, a calmer environment and higher staff moral in the Restrictive Housing Units.
Addressing the Step-Down Program, Vera recommends expanding strategies to further increase out-of-cell time for offenders and developing transition plans for program continuation once offenders complete the program.
Regarding the Restrictive Housing Pilot Program, Vera recommends the use of designated “cool-down” spaces where offenders can de-escalate after experiencing a volatile or otherwise intense situation. Vera also recommends providing clear and objective guidelines to help staff determine what behaviors merit placement in restrictive housing.
“Our engagement with Vera was intended to stretch us beyond our levels of success and I believe the engagement has been very fruitful,” added Director Clarke.
Visit https://www.vera.org/publications/safe-alternatives-to-segregation-virginia-department-of-corrections to read the full report, The Safe Alternatives to Segregation Initiative: Findings and Recommendations for the Virginia Department of Corrections.