RICHMOND, Va. — Just five years after launching the Administrative Step-Down Program, the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) is seeing serious results. The Association of State Correctional Administrators and the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School released a report on Nov. 30 that showed that Virginia’s rate of 2.8 percent of offenders in restrictive housing in Virginia prisons is now among the lowest in the U.S.
“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 VADOC Director Harold Clarke in a statement. “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.”
The report showed that Virginia’s rate of 2.8 percent of the state’s 30,412 offenders in restrictive housing was now the ninth-lowest rating among the 48 reporting jurisdictions across the U.S. The decrease in percentage of offenders in restrictive housing is the result of reforms initiated by the VADOC, including the Administrative Step-Down Program, established in 2011, as well as the Restrictive Housing Pilot Program launched in April 2016.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
The Administrative Step-Down Program gives high-risk offenders the opportunity to work their way out of restrictive housing and into the general prison population. The program launched at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, Va., and Red Onion State Prison in Pound, Va., in an effort to reduce the use of restrictive housing. Because of the program’s positive affect on long-term restrictive housing, the department developed a 70-member task force in 2014 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.
The department’s Restrictive Housing Pilot Program was also launched earlier this year at four low- to medium-level institutions. It, too, is designed to create a unified approach in reducing 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, according to a statement.