RICHMOND — More than 11,000 employees of the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) work in some of the most demanding environments imaginable, supervising more than 24,000 convicted inmates and nearly 60,000 individuals on probation and parole. Every day, these brave men and women come face-to-face with the difficult and dangerous reality of working in correctional settings, and their unfailing professionalism, courage, and dedication make Virginia a better and safer place to live. Our results speak for themselves: we once again have one of the lowest recidivism rates in the entire country.
The efforts and sacrifices of these men and women deserve recognition and respect. Yet all too often, selective and incomplete reporting overlooks and minimizes their work unfairly.
The recent article “Va. House Republicans Reject Plan for Independent Oversight of State Prison System,” published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on February 4, 2022, exemplifies this skewed reporting. While reporting that the elected representatives of Virginia had rejected a proposal by one of their colleagues, this article somehow took that legislative action and implied that VADOC is determined to reject all forms of external oversight or authority.
In reality, Virginia’s legislature is more than capable of providing oversight when and where it sees a need. VADOC also receives direct supervision from the Governor and Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. Unfortunately, rather than providing an impartial recounting of both sides of this debate, the author lists a series of wholly unconnected events in an attempt to demonstrate why outside oversight should be implemented. The end result appears to be an unjustified attack on the agency and the men and women who work for it.
For example, the article refers to an incident of alleged inmate abuse covered by the Times-Dispatch earlier this year. Immediately upon learning of these new allegations, VADOC voluntarily and without further prompting submitted all evidence from its own investigations of the matter to the local Commonwealth’s Attorney for an independent third-party review. The Department will stand by any decision here and take any steps necessary based on their evaluation. VADOC welcomes the external oversight provided by the Commonwealth Attorney’s review process.
The article also references an unconnected previous settlement agreement between the Department and an inmate over language accessibility and confinement in since-discontinued restrictive housing, with the implication that this proves a pattern of misbehavior. However, the statement that a federal judge “ordered” the Department to create a language access policy is inaccurate—the Department itself voluntarily agreed to adopt a language access policy pursuant to that settlement agreement. That VADOC voluntarily elected to settle a case, conserving taxpayer dollars in the process, should not be construed as an admission of wrongdoing or a sign that VADOC needs additional “oversight.”
VADOC is proud of the work we do with our inmates, both before and after they are released from custody. We work hard to protect the public safety, and to help prepare our inmates for success. But of course, VADOC is not perfect. In any organization, especially one of this size, there will be mistakes. We are always striving to improve our process and procedures and are as transparent as possible when mistakes do happen. For example, we actively embraced the changes made to the laws governing strip searches in Virginia by the legislature. It was a textbook example of effective oversight in action.
VADOC has embraced a lot of change over the past few years, making huge strides in many areas to become the progressive agency we are today. We are a nationwide leader in reducing the use of restrictive housing, and our re-entry programming is exemplary. We wish to recognize the tireless efforts of our staff and administrators and reassure them that these contributions are what are truly newsworthy about this organization.