Corrections’ 2020 Year in Review
December 16, 2020
A group of socially distanced, and masked Department of Corrections employees meet with the Secretary of Washington State DOC, Stephen Sinclair. (Photo by Washington DOC Staff – taken before the surgical mask mandate for Corrections employees.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected how all employees do their jobs and Corrections is no exception.
Employees in every division have adapted to rapidly-evolving — and many times stressful situations. Still employees continue to work — both in person and remotely with the help of virtual technology--as dedicated as ever to the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) mission of improving public safety by positively changing lives.
“The Washington State Department of Corrections has a dedicated workforce, committed to exceptional work at all times,” said Stephen Sinclair, Secretary for the department. “We are proud to announce these positive accomplishments for 2020.”
Here, in no particular order, are some highlights of our successes in 2020. By no means does this list capture all of our work. It does, however, give a snapshot of the fortitude our employees exhibit every day.
Minority Vendors: The department is expanding business opportunities with minority, women and veteran-owned companies. It has created a team whose goal is to diversify procurement decisions. The team is incorporating polices set forth by the Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises into its supplier diversity plan. In fiscal year 2020, more than $22 million has been dedicated to these companies.
Infants at Work: The Edna Lucille Goodrich Building, which houses the departments’ headquarters in Tumwater, worked with local building management and the state Department of Health to build two nurture rooms for nursing mothers and their babies.
Hearings decreased the rate of pre-hearing confinement by 9.1%.
In March, as cases of COVID-19 began to rise, Information Technology (IT) was tasked with determining options and a process to quickly pivot a large portion of agency staff to telework. Teams from all over IT worked long hours to deploy equipment, set up remote access, and troubleshoot issues. At the same time, staff were also supporting Incident Command Posts across the state and the Emergency Operations Center at Headquarters. All told, IT deployed laptops, hot spots, phones, and a vast array of other equipment to support nearly 1,000 staff moving to full or part-time telework. IT staff drafted how-to and help articles, and assisted in setting up additional capabilities such as electronic signatures to keep business processes moving.
IT has also been working to increase mobility by transitioning the agency to the Microsoft365 suite of applications. This effort has included teams from all over IT and from the Information Governance team. Teams from every area of IT have been working with WATECH and with Department of Corrections business units to test critical applications ahead of the transition. The first major deployment in this effort was the Microsoft Teams application in early December.
The DOC’s policy office has streamlined the policy review process. In 2020, the review process was shortened by 25%. The policy office increased compliance reviews by 14% and added a public comment period that allows people to review draft policies on the DOC’s public website and provide feedback for up to two weeks.
Accurate Time Accounting: A major focus was accurate sentence calculations and time accounting to make sure incarcerated individuals and those on community supervision complete their sentences on time. As a part of this effort, records created a committee to identify and prioritize fixing OMNI defects. It centralized tasks relating to supervision eligibility, tolling, and calculations on returned prison time because of non-compliance. The records division also added more positions to improve quality assurance and required records staff at Washington Corrections Center for Women and the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton to report to a records manager outside of the prison chain of command.
Identicards: Enterprise Results spearheaded several projects meant to engage the public and other agencies. The DOC worked with the Washington State Department of Licensing and Department of Social and Health Services to provide more than 2,000 people valid state identification cards upon release from prison.
Education: The DOC worked with the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges to provide educational opportunities. While COVID-19 temporarily cancelled some classes, correctional instructors worked hard to create safety measures to allow most classes to resume, such as reducing class sizes, and creating hybrid learning opportunities through the use of pre-loaded lessons on secured laptops and hard copy learning packets. Approximately 900 incarcerated students were able to use laptops.
Capital Planning and Development
Conserving Energy: Substitute Senate Bill 6090 provided $3.2 million for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to work with DOC to find ways to reduce energy costs within correctional facilities and include DOC in a statewide energy saving plan, which includes lowering the use of and cost of water. Capital Planning and Development also began implementing new project management software that will replace outdated budgeting software and reduce reliance on paper files.
Hope Gardens Project
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused record numbers of families experiencing food insecurity. The DOC stepped up to help. This spring, several prisons expanded their gardens to grow more produce and donate it to local food banks. Most prisons already maintain gardens, in which approximately half of food grown is used in facility kitchens to supplement meals for incarcerated individuals. The other half is donated to local food banks and community programs for low income individuals and people experiencing food insecurity. In 2020, incarcerated gardeners grew, harvested and donated more than 73,800 pounds of produce to community organizations.
The prisons division made strides to improve its Resolution Program (previously known as the Offender Grievance Program). Through work with the Office of Corrections Ombuds, formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, the Attorney General’s Office, Disability Rights Washington and other advocates, DOC updated its Resolution Program policy to streamline the grievance process.
Despite the pandemic, the Department of Corrections has been able to continue providing programs and resources for incarcerated Natives. At Mission Creek Corrections Center’s Native programs coordinator, Joi Sky Caudill, won an award for her ability to keep some Native ceremony activities going safely by offering multiple sessions to allow for social distancing. The department also announced plans to build a program in which it would work with the non-profit Tribal organization, Huy to grow plants for Native medicines within prison facilities.
The DOC activated its emergency operations center and opened its prisons and health services unified command center in March to support the statewide response to COVID-19 and help keep all DOC facilities safe and minimize spread of the disease. Several DOC employees were deployed to incident command posts and joint information centers across the state to assist with COVID-19 response. The agency’s EOC continues to operate and provide unified messaging to staff across the agency. To view the latest data, information and resources on the department’s response to COVID-19, please visit the DOC’s COVID-19 response page.
The DOC continued Vera Institute of Justice partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice as part of the “Safe Prisons, Safe Communities: From Isolation to Dignity and Wellness Behind Bars” initiative aimed at reducing excessive use of restrictive housing. Notable outcomes include an approximately 20% reduction of its restricting housing population over the course of the multi-year project, including a reducing the administrative housing population by 10% during the first half of 2020. The project puts DOC in a path to a long-term goal of reducing its restrictive housing population by 50% over the next four years.
As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, community corrections established a rapid reentry program to assist people released from correctional facilities under the governor’s proclamation to reduce prison populations during the pandemic. Community Corrections Division staff deployed to prisons and work releases to provide staffing relief and resources to keep staff and incarcerated individuals safe.
Housing Voucher Expansion
The DOC’s program to provide formerly incarcerated individuals housing vouchers as part of their transition back into communities additional funding--$674,000 to be received incrementally, though fiscal year 2021. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the housing voucher program provided 43% of releasing individuals under the governor’s proclamation to reduce prison populations a housing voucher.
Health Services has been focused on adapting its services to continue providing medical core services to incarcerated individuals during the pandemic and take preventative measures to slow and prevent spread of COVID-19. One way the DOC is doing this is through serial staff testing at its facilities. Dental staff helped nurses perform serial testing and with system checks of quarantined incarcerated individuals. The department has also placed HEPA filter purification systems across its clinics so that non emergent dental services could resume.
Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance
In July, Health Services installed video relay interpreting services at Monroe Correctional Complex, Washington Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women. Video relay interpreting provides services for deaf and hard of hearing individuals who use American Sign Language.
Traumatic Brain Injuries Pilot
Stafford Creek Corrections Center became the site of a pilot program that identified incarcerated individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The pilot was made possible through federal grant funding and a partnership with the University of Washington. The department was able or hire a temporary psychological associate to perform TBI screening and peer education groups for people with known TBIs. DOC is working with the Department of Social and Health Services to conduct the peer support group sessions via a video conferencing application.
There is much more that could be considered a highlight this year: partnering with the state’s combined fund drive and community organizations to raise more than $12,000 dollars for domestic violence victims though an incarcerated individual art auction; working with Correctional Industries to produce gowns to supplement personal protective equipment shortages for health care workers during the early onset of the pandemic; Stafford Creek celebrating its official chartering of the first ever American Legion post inside a correctional facility; and continuing to improve our performance management, just to name a few.
For the next couple of years, the DOC has a strategic plan in place with goals that include:
- Decreasing the first-year rate of return to institutions by at least two percent
- Establishing continuity of care plans for 40% of people releasing from prison who has histories of substance abuse disorder, mental health issues and chronic care conditions
- Decreasing the rate of violence within facilities from 0.93 to 0.90 per 100 incarcerated individuals.