Q&A: Virginia DOC Director Shares Insight on Working with Service Contractors

Service contractors can play a critical role in correctional facility operations, often filling treatment and service gaps. While some facilities prefer to keep all operation in-house, many others rely on these outside firms.

Harold Clarke is the director of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC), which uses service contractors in certain areas of its operations to help save both time and money. Clarke spoke with Correctional News about criteria used for selecting the right contractor, and how the department works to ensure these partnerships remain the best possible option for staff and inmates.
Q. How has the VADOC integrated service contractors into its correctional and justice operations?
Clarke: The VADOC strategically uses contractors in areas where we believe services can best be delivered economically and/or expeditiously by entities other than the department. As the VADOC’s focus is on the custody and care of sentenced men and women and their reintegration for long-term public safety, limited resources may best be used in incorporation of contractors whose core business is service delivery in particular areas.
Q. What criteria do you use to determine if a particular contractor is a good fit for the facility?
Clarke: The bidding process for contractors is fairly complex and may involve consideration of price, value, quality and ability to deliver a comprehensive range of services. The contractors’ ability to meet all requirements outlined in the RFP and maintain these requirements during the length of the contract is also considered. Similarly, the financial stability and history of service delivery will be considered for any bidding contractor
Q. What do you look for in private contractors in terms of staffing and/or staff training?
Clarke: This would depend on the type of service delivery and terms of the contract. In most instances, all contracts require an adequate staffing level from the contractor to ensure full service delivery and many contracts include penalties for failure to meet staffing levels outlined in the contracts. Staff training that is not VADOC specific would be pertinent to qualifications of the provided staff as included in the contract.
Q. Once the contractor is under contract with the facility, how are they monitored or reviewed?
Clarke: All VADOC contracts are formally evaluated at least annually. Contractors are working with the VADOC and in our facilities and their service delivery is monitored in fashion at all times. All contracts include provisions for formal contract monitors who assist in the administration of the contract and continuous formal evaluation of service delivery.
Q. Can you share a few pros and cons related to partnering with contractors as opposed to keeping certain services in-house?
Clarke: The VADOC appreciates the partnerships with contractors that allow us to focus on the core business of supervision, custody and care of those sentenced to terms of confinement or supervision.
Cons: Need to evaluate and monitor to ensure proper service delivery
Perceived lack of control
Extensive process to eliminate underperforming contractors

Pros: Fiscal stewardship, better use of limited resources
Service/staffing guarantees in areas with low retention/recruitment areas
Wider range of available resources
Ability to control cost fluctuations through absorption and contract control

To learn more about this topic, look for "Working with Service Contractors," in the March/April issue of Correctional News, available soon.