RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Corrections today released a report on the state of restrictive housing for inmates in the Commonwealth’s correctional facilities.
Virginia has greatly reduced the use of restrictive housing, commonly referred to as segregation, in recent years. The median length of stay in short-term restrictive housing in Virginia prisons is now 14 days, with more than a quarter of offenders released from short term restrictive housing within five days. There are fewer than 50 offenders in long-term restrictive housing in a system of about 30,000 offenders.
“Virginia’s latest restrictive housing numbers are the result of a lot of hard work on the part of both the Department of Corrections and the incarcerated offenders,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “I want to thank Director Harold Clarke for his department’s work to make sure we do as much as possible to prepare people to leave our corrections system ready to rebuild their lives.”
In October of 2011, the Department 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.
“We welcome the support and partnership of those who care about this issue as passionately as we do, and who are committed to finding solutions,” said Virginia Department of Corrections Director Harold Clarke. “Virginia serves as a national model for restrictive housing reform. Today there are 43 offenders in long-term restrictive housing, and those individuals in long-term restrictive housing have many more options than they used to.”
Offenders may be placed in short-term restrictive housing for offenses such as fighting, assault, threatening staff, being under the influence of drugs, possession of contraband, and refusing to follow direct orders. Offenders may be placed in long-term restrictive housing for offenses such as attempted murder of another offender or staff member, escape or attempted escape, or serious assault. While offenders reside in restrictive housing, they regularly interact with officers and medical and mental health staff. They receive programming and have phone and visitation privileges.
Based upon the documented success of the incentivized step-down process for long-term restrictive housing offenders, VADOC began a Restrictive Housing Pilot Program in four medium security level institutions in April 2016 for the short-term restrictive housing population. This program was successfully expanded to all male facilities by November 2018. From January 2016 to June 2019, VADOC decreased its short-term restrictive housing population statewide by 66% (992 individuals).
VADOC is in the business of helping the justice-involved population and continues to review and adapt policies and procedures related to restrictive housing. Virginia’s reform efforts have been recognized nationally. 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.” In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice, in its Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing, highlighted the significant reforms at Red Onion State Prison.
Thirteen states have toured Virginia facilities and applied aspects of Virginia’s stepdown operations in their own jurisdictions. In December 2016, the Vera Institute of Justice, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, provided targeted technical assistance to VADOC. Vera assisted VADOC with its reform efforts, provided recommendations, and developed a partnership of learning from cultural reform.
Governor Ralph Northam announced in January that for the third year in a row, Virginia’s recidivism rate is the lowest in the country at 23.4 percent.