Virginia

Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman (the “Office”)

Budget

$250,000

Staffing

No dedicated employees as of November 2023, but the Office will work under the Chief Deputy State Inspector General.

State Prison Profile

Virginia has 43 state prison facilities (one of which is private) and incarcerates approximately 25,000 people in state prisons. The state prison system is run by the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Authority

Title 2.2, Chapter 3.2, Code of Virginia, amended Sept. 14, 2023

  • Structure: No specifics were given about the structure of the Office, except for that it is funded through the Office of the State Inspector General’s budget for the 2024 fiscal year.
  • Oversight Committee: A Corrections Oversight Committee (“Committee”) was established to advise and assist the Office, with members serving three-year terms. The committee is to consist of 13 unpaid members, including:
    • two members of the Senate who are not members of the same political party, to be appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules;
    • two members of the House of Delegates who are not members of the same political party, to be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates; and
    • the following nonlegislative citizen members to be appointed by the Governor:
      • one representative of a nonprofit prisoner advocacy group;
      • one representative of a nonprofit organization that provides training or rehabilitation programs for incarcerated individuals;
      • two citizens who were formerly incarcerated within the Commonwealth for a term of imprisonment of three years or more within the 10 years immediately preceding their appointment provided that such citizens have had their civil rights restored by the Governor;
      • one licensed physician;
      • one licensed mental health or behavioral health professional;
      • one person who is a family member of a person currently incarcerated within the Commonwealth;
      • one current or former Department correctional officer in a supervisory role selected from an association of correctional officers and employees or a nonprofit organization in which he is a member; and
      • one current or former Department line correctional officer selected from an association of correctional officers and employees or a nonprofit organization in which he is a member.
  • Authorized Activities:
    • Strategic Plan: The Office is authorized to conduct inspections in prisons and shall develop a short- and long-term strategic plan informed by: visits to Department of Corrections facilities, at least two public meetings, consultation with stakeholders, and reviewing best practices in other states. The plan must include procedures for coordination with the Office of the State Inspector General and the Department of Corrections and include options and recommendations for legislation and budget actions.
    •  General Responsibilities: The Office’s purpose is to:
      • provide information to incarcerated people, family members, Department of Corrections employees, and others regarding the rights of incarcerated people and employees;
      • monitor conditions of confinement, assess compliance with existing policies and best practices, and make recommendations to the corrections agency;
      • provide technical assistance to support self-advocacy by incarcerated people;
      • establish procedures to gather stakeholder input into the Ombudsman’s activities; and
      • make recommendations that would support the safety and wellbeing of incarcerated people and employees. 
  • Access: The Office shall have the same powers and rights to access as Office of the State Inspector General employees, who conduct inspections of licensed mental health treatment units in state correctional facilities.

Activities

No activity as of November 2023.

Reports

The Office must issue a report on its initial activities and strategic plan by November 2024.

Organizational History

In February 2023, the Virginia Senate passed a bill to create an independent prison ombudsman’s office, but the measure failed to pass out of a House committee. In September 2023, as the Legislature passed its annual budget amendments, lawmakers established the Office and the Committee under the provisions of the Office of the State Inspector General.

News Stories

Virginia set to increase independent oversight of state prisons (Richmond 8News, Sept. 14, 2023)

Special Note

Virginia is believed to be the only state that has established correctional oversight through the budget bill rather than through traditional legislation.