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Office of the Corrections Ombuds - Annual Report 2019

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OFFICE OF THE

CORRECTIONS
OMBUDS

ANNUAL REPORT
2019
Prepared by
Joanna Carns, Director
Submitted on
November 1, 2019

Table of Contents
Message from the Director

3

Executive Summary

6

I.

Mission and Values

8

II.

OCO Budget and Expenditures – FY 2019

8

III.

OCO Complaints Received and Resolved

9

IV.

Selected Individual Case Summaries

10

V.

Significant Systemic/Investigative Outcomes

14

VI.

Recommendations

16

VII.

Stakeholder Outreach and Input

29

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 2

Message from the Director
It is with great pride that I report to you the activities of the first full year of operation of
the Office of the Corrections Ombuds (OCO). It has been a year of tremendous growth,
development, and building. In the first year, OCO met the following milestones:


Created an organizational chart with clear staffing positions for a two-tier system
of both intake and investigation, and hired for all positions. OCO centers in its
hiring decisions those who have personally and directly been impacted by
incarceration.



Created a student intern program with the inaugural class composed of both
undergrads and Masters of Public Administration students from The Evergreen
State College. OCO will maximize its limited state resources by building a robust
intern and volunteer program.



Located office space and signed a three-year lease with The Evergreen State
College, creating a longterm, durable program at the college. OCO hopes to
partner with justice-focused programs that already exist at Evergreen, including
Gateways to Incarcerated Youth and the Sustainability in Prisons Project.



Held all four of the statutorily mandated quarterly public stakeholder meetings on
both the Western and the Eastern side of Washington and held meetings with
key coalition members responsible for the creation of OCO. OCO created with
stakeholder input the first strategic plan with clearly delineated objectives, goals,
and strategic priorities. I continue to be impressed and inspired by the decade of
work that stakeholders committed to bring about this office, and appreciate their
ongoing support and guidance.



Opened over 2,000 cases and initiated review, attempted to resolve and/or
investigate, and closed, as applicable. OCO impacted positive change for
hundreds of incarcerated individuals.



Presented in front of both House and Senate legislative committees that handle
corrections matters and met with all legislator members on those committees.
OCO continues to raise awareness of the concerns impacting incarcerated
individuals, their families, and other stakeholders.



Prompted systemic improvement across multiple areas of the Department of
Corrections, including health services, the grievance procedure, property
handling, disciplinary issues related to urinalyses, and more.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 3

Of course, any growth process includes growing pains. OCO began accepting
complaints before it was fully staffed and before procedures were fully developed,
creating an immediate backlog. OCO experienced staff turnover, which caused further
backlogs and training delays. Building communication, dialogue, and trust with
advocates and impacted citizens is also a work in progress, with many lessons learned
moving forward.
Based on my experience in prison oversight in Ohio, I have a unique vantage point to
comparatively see both the positives and challenges of Washington’s Department of
Corrections (DOC). Positively, DOC staff, starting with Secretary Sinclair, have
expressed a clear commitment to work with OCO staff on identified areas for change
and improvement. DOC has worked collaboratively with OCO on several policy
changes, including urinalyses, behavioral observation entries, and the grievance
procedure. Although OCO staff are primarily contacted when things go wrong, OCO has
also experienced a number of DOC staff, including Superintendents and line staff, who
have a commitment to a progressive, humane corrections system. Compared to Ohio,
there are fewer reports of excessive use of force, a greater ability for normalized family
interactions via extended family visitation, and greater access to higher education.
However, although there are a number of positives regarding DOC, there are also
serious concerns. This report will attempt to pull together recommendations based on a
year of gathering information and receiving over 2,000 complaints from across the
system. To be clear, this report is not and should not be considered a 360 degree
evaluation of DOC. OCO receives only complaints. Further, these recommendations are
based on only its first year and therefore should be considered but a first attempt to
address the larger issues impacting the correctional population. OCO also recognizes
that there are likely deeper issues, including a disproportionate negative impact on
individuals based on race, ethnicity, class, age, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, and
immigration status, that are predominately not addressed in this report, but hopefully will
be explored in coming years.
To implement the recommendations in this report, though, DOC will need to confront its
own bureaucratic challenges that impede change, which include the following:


DOC is a siloed bureaucracy, with information not easily traveling up to the staff
with power to make changes, or across departments. Information out of DOC is
often conflicting or inaccurate, and there can be great variation between how
policy is implemented between facilities.



Creative, proactive problem-solving of issues impacting the incarcerated
population does not appear to be a pervasive part of the DOC culture; staff have
reported feeling bound by rules set by people who have not worked in institutions
for years, and conversely, staff at the administrative level often assume that they
know how things operate when in fact the situation on the ground may be much
different. Further, DOC’s efforts at policy change are directly impeded by its
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 4

policy office, which is at best sclerotic, with policy changes sometimes taking
over a year and some policies not having been updated for a decade. This
results in staff either feeling disincentivized to try to create change or they create
workarounds that may or may not reflect the written policy.


DOC’s identification of problems impacting the incarcerated for improvement
work appears to be primarily driven by investigations rather than proactive
reform. This has created a negative culture of blaming individuals rather than
improving processes, resulting in both fear and a refusal to take responsibility so
as not to be the one blamed. It also insulates administrative staff from being
aware of problems on the ground until it rises to the level of an investigation.



Comprehensive external oversight by a nationally-recognized accrediting body
has been lacking, and the internal operations audit process is shallow, occurring
only every two years, staffed by only two people, evaluating a limited number of
areas, and with an unclear level of accountability resulting from a poor audit
rating.



Similar to many departments of corrections across the nation, the custody chain
of command has been at the forefront of departmental priorities and initiatives,
leaving ancillary departments, such as health services, to operate without the
same focus, to its and the incarcerated population’s detriment.

Above all else, despite the many DOC staff who want to be at the forefront of the
national movement of evidence-based, results-driven justice work, DOC remains a
reflection of past philosophies, starting with both its name – “Corrections” – and the
legislative intent. To truly see change, the Governor’s office and the Washington
Legislature need to give DOC a new vision in line with today’s focus on rehabilitation
and reentry. The public is better served when rehabilitation truly happens within DOC
and people return to their communities with necessary education and pro-social skills,
and free from the addictions that led them to incarceration in the first place. But to truly
achieve that goal, DOC’s predominant staff culture and overall lens needs to change.
OCO staff work with a passion to uphold our mission and responsibility to reduce the
likelihood of adverse actions occurring within DOC that impact the health, safety,
welfare, and rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals. In fulfilling this mission, our work
has illuminated several areas for systemic reform that will benefit the lives of those who
both live and work in correctional facilities in WA.
Sincerely,

Joanna Carns, Director

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 5

Executive Summary
One year since opening its doors to receiving complaints, OCO is fully operational, with
procedures in place for effective intake, early resolution, and investigation of complaints.
In the past year, OCO has achieved the following:


Prompted systemic reform and policy change, including but not limited to:
o Improving the quality of the internal grievance procedure, to overall reduce
complaints and resolve issues at the lowest level;
o Identifying systemic barriers to both access to and quality of health
services;
o Ensuring incarcerated individuals’ access to confirmation tests of
urinalyses, to reduce unjust sanctions and loss of good time;
o Ensuring notification and meaningful opportunity to appeal behavioral
observation entries, also potentially impacting loss of good time and
release;
o Improving conditions of confinement for women and transgender
individuals, including access to gender affirming care;
o Prompting review of property procedures and policies to reduce the loss
property for incarcerated individuals and tort claim; and,
o Ensuring recording of all Category D disciplinary hearings to better ensure
accountability and justice.



Provided assistance to hundreds of incarcerated individuals and their families,
ranging from providing information on self-advocacy options to overturning
infractions to reinstating visitation to ensuring access to medical care.

OCO successfully worked with DOC staff across a number of issues, including both
individual cases and systemic issues. DOC staff made numerous reversals of prior
decisions to ensure incarcerated individuals received necessary care, treatment, and
items. DOC staff also engaged in high level systemic changes and improvements after
discussion and consideration with OCO.
Based on the over 2,000 complaints that OCO has received from November 1, 2018 to
August 31, 2019, OCO makes the following recommendations for systemic reform to
improve conditions of confinement and ensure that persons confined in DOC are treated
humanely and released back to society with the greatest chance of success:
1.

DOC should re-align itself toward the goal of equipping individuals for a
successful reentry and improving public safety through reducing future
crimes.

2.

Understanding that family connections are a proven positive factor in reducing
recidivism, DOC should proactively look to maximize family connections

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 6

whenever possible and prohibit the complete restriction of family connections,
except where there is a clear and present security concern presented.
3.

DOC should significantly improve quality of, access to, and oversight of its
health services, particularly medical care.

4.

DOC should create better access to healthy food, including prioritizing fresh
produce, less processed products, and quality protein, through greater
utilization of incarcerated workers who can then gain skills for reentry
success.

5.

DOC should ensure incarcerated individuals with a mental health diagnosis
receive special – and different – consideration when involved in the internal
DOC disciplinary system.

6.

DOC should ensure incarcerated individuals with disabilities have equal
access to programs, services, and the grievance program.

7.

DOC should apply a trauma informed and gender responsive lens to
programs, services, staff training, and conditions of confinement, particularly
for women and LGBTQI individuals across facilities.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 7

I.

OCO Mission and Values
Mission

The mission of the Office of Corrections Ombuds is to reduce the likelihood of actions or
inactions of DOC negatively impacting the health, safety, welfare, and rights of
incarcerated individuals by intervening in individual cases and making public reports
with recommendations for systemic improvement to the Governor, the Legislature, and
agency officials.

Values
•

Dignity: We recognize the dignity of all persons.

•

Impartiality: We are neutral, independent, and unbiased in our work.

•

Confidentiality: We respect and protect the information entrusted to us.

•

Integrity: We are honest, ethical, and dedicated to our work.

•

Promoting Public Awareness: We create systemic reform by publishing
reports that influence change and outcomes.

II.

OCO Budget and Expenditures – FY 2019

Category
Salaries and Wages
Employee Benefits
Professional Service Contracts
Goods and Services
Travel
Capital Outlays
Total

Allotment
565,600
214,608
100,000
273,652
20,640
41,500
$1,216,000

Expenditure
312,404
109,709
6,108
95,287
50,045
0
$573,552

OCO significantly underspent its budget for FY 2019 as during this period it was in the
process of opening the office and hiring staff. For example, OCO had no staff for almost
the entire first quarter of FY 2019.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 8

III.

OCO Complaints Received and Resolved (November
1, 2018 – August 30, 2019)

2,002 Complaints Received

Open, 28%

Assistance
Provided, 25%

Declined, 47%*

*Cases are generally declined due to lack of jurisdiction, including that the incarcerated person had not
attempted to use the internal grievance procedure prior to contacting OCO, or after OCO’s initial review,
DOC was found to be following policy. OCO will often still consider declined cases for potential policy and
systemic improvement work.

Complaints by Top Categories of Concern
450
400
350
300
250
200
150
100
50
0

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 9

Top Institutions by Rate of Complaints per 100 Incarcerated
Individuals
25
20
15
10
5
0

Washington Stafford
Corrections
Creek
Center for
Women

IV.

AHCC

AHCC

Clallam Bay

Airway
Heights

Washington
State
Penitentiary

Coyote
Ridge

Mission
Creek

Selected Individual Case Summaries

Institution
AHCC

AHCC

Monroe

Concern
Complainant contacted OCO about his
infractions for using the restroom during
count due to a bladder infection. Originally,
DOC was unwilling to overturn, stating his
medication for his bladder infection was
sufficient and he should not have needed
ice or extra bathroom time. Complainant
subsequently found to have Stage IV
prostate cancer.
Complainant’s hearing aids were stolen. He
should have two and DOC only gave him
one. He cannot hear the officers when they
talk to him. It is a safety issue.
Complainant’s wife’s visitation suspended
indefinitely. It has been over a year and her
appeals are still getting denied due to her
hair extensions being a “security threat”
and she showed the complainant a tattoo
on her thigh.
Complainant placed in Therapeutic
Community, which requires public
speaking, but he has high anxiety, as
documented through a Health Status
Report. Received an infraction for failure to
program, which affects his ability to go to a
camp.

Outcome
DOC overturned the
infraction. OCO
ensured he had
cancer care from the
point of diagnosis
and is looking into
the diagnosis delay.

DOC gave him a
second hearing aid.

DOC reinstated
visitation.

DOC overturned the
infraction.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 10

Institution
AHCC

CCCC

CRCC

CRCC

MCC
MCC
MCC

MCCCW

OCC

OCC

Concern
Complainant wrote OCO a letter explaining
his foot issues, that the CRC had denied
him medical boots and told him to get
inserts, but then he was denied inserts.
Complainant said that he is being denied
work release; feels he is being
discriminated against. The no contact order
has expired but that is the reason DOC
keeps telling him as to why he cannot go to
work release.
Complainant needs C-PAP machine. He
was told that he would get a C-PAP
machine right away, but it has been almost
a month, and over eight months since
entry.
Complainant’s daughter removed from
visiting list despite having court order
specifically allowing for visitation.
Complainant alleged that his property not
transferred from CBCC
Complainant’s hernia Health Status Report
removed without testing him.
Complainant wants to take medication on a
voluntary basis to fulfill the requirements for
ISRB. He has been on involuntary
medication for 540 days.
Complainant contacted OCO as she was
not receiving the proper food required for
Celiacs disease. Complainant reported
malnutrition and health problems.

Complainant has been in the final phase of
the Therapeutic Community for over a year
and has been told by staff that he will need
to complete the same programming
repeatedly until release, 22 months later.
Chemical dependency counselor continues
to neglect complainant’s diagnosis of
PTSD, specifically being infracted for
issues with speaking publicly.

Outcome
DOC provided
inserts at no cost
and a follow-up
appointment.
DOC processed him
for a work release
placement.

DOC provided the
C-PAP machine.

DOC reinstated
vistiation.
DOC transferred his
property.
DOC reinstated the
HSR
DOC allowed
voluntary
medication.
DOC provided
supplemental diet
items and proper
handling and
ordering of gluten
free and wheat free
food options.
DOC discharged
from TC.

DOC changed
counselors;
complainant now
stable in program.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 11

Institution
SCCC

SCCC

SCCC

SCCC

SCCC

WCC

WCC
WCCW
WCCW

WCCW

Concern
Complainant is 150lb, 70 yrs old. He
was bullied by a 300 lb man. When
another person reported the bullying
post-release, the bully made a false
PREA report against the complainant,
who was infracted.
Complainant to be transferred to another
institution after being infracted and
having many issues with an officer, who
placed a “keep separate.” He grieved
her and never got a response.
Complainant says he has been on a
special diet for over a year; needs his
food pureed in order for him to eat. He
has an ulcer and if he is not on the
special diet, it causes him to throw up.
Grieved multiple times to no avail.
Complainant has severe asthma; DOC
took his nebulizer because they thought
he abused it
Complainant wanted a copy of
paperwork that he signed, but was told
he would have to publicly disclose it.
Complainant alleges that his release
date is in error. His J&S says he should
have 130 days served from time in jail.
Pierce County only logged 30 days.
Complainant in longterm isolation. Aunt
not allowed to visit.
Property denied in mental health crisis
unit.
Complainant transferred from Yakima to
WCCW. She had a lip ring and a tongue
ring and was told if she turned in her
jewelry before going through the body
scanner that she would not be infracted.
She did and one week later received a
517 major infraction.
Complainant’s daughter charged with
attempting to convey contraband. She
was infracted, lost good time, and a
permanent restriction was placed on
visitation with her mother. Upon review,
the investigation had significant holes.

Outcome
PREA allegation
found to be false.
DOC overturned the
infraction.

DOC did not transfer
him.

DOC corrected the
diet.

DOC returned his
nebulizer.
SCCC staff
implemented new
policy to now give
copies.
DOC reinstated 100
days.

Superintendent
allowed special visit.
DOC restored
property.
DOC overturned the
infraction.

DOC overturned the
infraction, good time
returned, visitation
with the mother
reinstated.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 12

Institution
WCCW

Concern
Complainant complained of lack of
treatment for eczema as well as use of
Behavioral and Mental Health Plan to
incentivize access to treatment for
eczema. OCO confirmed itching and
rashes that covered complainant’s arms
and legs.
Transgender men contacted OCO as
they were receiving only one binder for
gender affirming care and
undergarments, forcing them to use and
wash the same binder over and over,
causing inconvenience, enhanced
gender dysphoria when they did not
have access to a binder, and wear and
tear on the binder itself.
Complainant contacted OCO as Yakima
Jail could not provide sufficient food for
managing her Celiacs disease.
Complainant reported malnutrition and
health problems.

Outcome
Medical staff provided
necessary topical
creams. OCO also
discussed with staff
ending the practice of
using plans to
incentivize treatment.
DOC HQ updated the
property matrix so that
all people requesting
binders will receive
four.

Yakima Jail

Complainant was transferred to Yakima
Jail the week of graduation from the
FEPPS (Freedom Education Project
Sound).

DOC returned her to
WCCW to attend her
graduation. WCCW in
turn worked with
FEPPS to establish
education holds.

Yakima Jail

Several complainants contacted our
office who were in active appeals, or
one with an active clemency petition and
the need for access to a legal library,
which was not available at Yakima Jail.

Individuals were
returned to WCCW for
Legal Access. Yakima
Jail and DOC staff
worked to provide
computers with legal
access onsite.

WCCW

Yakima Jail

DOC transferred her
back to WCCW where
her diet could be
stabilized and
properly managed.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 13

V.

Significant Systemic/Investigative Outcomes

Concern
OCO’s largest area of concern is in health
services. OCO conducted a review of the
complaints that it has received, produced
a tracking sheet with common issues and
recommendations for improvement.
Common issues include scheduling errors,
lack of oversight/auditing/quality
assurance, medication errors, failure to
receive treatment, and failure to both see
an outside specialist and for DOC to follow
that specialist’s recommendations.

Outcome
DOC agreed to make a number of
changes, including creating a new
process for medical grievances,
improving its “constant quality
improvement process,” and seeking
accreditation, among others. OCO is
meeting regularly with DOC health
services administration to ensure followup and that the concerns are being
addressed. Health services is an
ongoing issue.

OCO received several allegations of false
positives from the on-site, instant
urinalyses conducted by DOC.
Incarcerated individuals had no
meaningful ability to appeal the infraction
as they could not request a re-test of the
urinalysis sample. OCO conducted multistate research and determined that many
states allow for confirmation tests by
outside labs and also do not test for
certain substances such as THC within 45
days of reception due to the fact that
based on level of use and body size, THC
can remain in the body an extended
period of time.

DOC agreed to change its policy to
ensure (1) no testing for THC within 45
days of reception and (2) ability to
request confirmation test by outside lab.
DOC has rolled out training on the new
process, which should go into effect
before the end of 2019, and the policy
change is being finalized.

OCO noted multiple concerns regarding
incarcerated individuals’ use of the
grievance procedure, including poor
quality of investigations by DOC staff prior
to making a determination, overuse of
sending grievances back for “rewrite”
based on technicalities, lack of assurance
that a grievance would not be “lost,” and
retaliation.

DOC implemented a training for all
Grievance Coordinators and
Superintendents, including a revised and
improved checklist to ensure
thoroughness and the preservation of
perishable evidence. DOC created a
workgroup co-chaired by the DOC
Director of Prisons and the OCO Director
and involving a cross-section of internal
DOC staff and external stakeholders to
evaluate and make recommendations for
improvement in the grievance procedure.
The final report is due December 31,
2019.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 14

Concern
OCO received several complaints that staff
logged negative Behavioral Observation Entries
(BOEs) into incarcerated individuals’ records
without that individual’s knowledge or ability to
appeal, which later affected classification and
even release outcomes.

Outcome
DOC agreed to change its policy
to ensure both notification and
appeal opportunity.

OCO received several complaints regarding
visitation denied to certain individuals with sex
offenses for their biological, minor children
despite their Judgment and Sentence explicitly
allowing for visitation with the named children.

DOC agreed to change its policy
to implement a committee to
review cases and more explicit
criteria. OCO is still working with
DOC on this issue.

OCO received several complaints that a large
number of incarcerated individuals were held in
longterm isolation waiting on an out-of-state
transfer that could take years. OCO conducted
multi-state research and found that DOC had a
significantly higher population and significantly
higher wait time than any other state researched.

DOC agreed to reevaluate the list,
determine if any persons could be
safely released to general
population, and evaluate a more
suitable living unit placement.
Number of persons on waitlist has
been significantly reduced.

OCO received several complaints from
transgender incarcerated individuals who raised
concerns regarding the doctor who was
evaluating them, as well as denial of the
purchase of cosmetics.

OCO raised the concerns with
DOC, prompting a review of the
doctor, and also agreed to allow
for the purchase of cosmetics for
transgender women in male
facilities.
Staff at the facility of the incident
created statewide training around
cell extractions to improve
accountability.

OCO received an allegation of improper use of
force, specifically that an officer with a helmet
head-butted a restrained incarcerated individual.
OCO noted multiple flaws in the investigation
process and report.
OCO has received several complaints regarding
loss of property and staff’s failure to reimburse or
replace.

OCO’s review of a case in which a Category D
hearing was not audio recorded raised the issue
that in fact no Category D hearings were being
recorded due to a planned policy change that
had not materialized and that was in
contravention of the WAC.

DOC created a workgroup at one
facility to evaluate and improve
property procedures, with best
practices to be shared across
DOC. DOC also agreed to add
prosthetics to the property matrix.
DOC immediately sent out a
notice informing staff to record
Category D hearings.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 15

VI.

Recommendations

The following list of recommendations are not intended to be comprehensive, as OCO
has only been in existence for a year, but are based on a review of the over 2,000
complaints that OCO has received to date.

1. DOC should re-align itself toward the goal of equipping
individuals for a successful reentry and improving public safety
through reducing future crimes.
The vast majority of complaints reported to OCO arise from individual staff either acting
out of a negative DOC culture rooted in adversarial notions of corrections or applying
black-and-white policy without regard for the person’s individual situation, with an unjust
outcome resulting. While individual leaders in DOC often verbally promote a progressive
ideal, they are impeded by the entire construct of the department itself, which
perpetuates the paradigm that incarcerated individuals are felons who cannot be
trusted, let alone changed. From the name of the department itself – correction implying
discipline – to the position description of correctional “officers,” to the continued use of
the word “offender,” to the highly structured surveillance of even the minimum security
and work release populations, DOC aligns itself with a law enforcement mentality that
reinforces the underlying criminal conviction of the incarcerated population. By
reinforcing the person’s criminal status, DOC fails to facilitate the personal
transformation that is ultimately what will truly promote a successful reentry and improve
public safety through the reduction of future victims.


Re-align and better identify the goals and priorities of the department toward
rehabilitation and reentry, which could occur through changing the name of the
department to “Rehabilitation and Reentry,” changing the legislative intent
established for DOC in RCW 72.09.010, and changing the mission statement.



Explore and implement current best practices for corrections both nationally and
internationally, such as the Norway model, which emphasizes a normalized
environment that reflects as best as it can the normal experience of being in the
community, ultimately increasing the likelihood of successful reentry.



All DOC staff should receive trauma-informed training to facilitate better, more
positive interactions with the incarcerated, as well as with each other for an
overall improved environment.

Case Examples: Rehabilitation and Reentry Focus
Mr. A is a 70 year old man with Parkinson’s. Over the course of a year, he received
11 infractions for defecating and urinating on himself, resulting in an escalating series
of infractions that combined to almost 200 days loss of visitation with his brother, 150
days loss of good time credit, in addition to numerous restrictions on his access to the
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 16

phone or other communication devices, cell confinement, and loss of privileges. Staff
believed that his actions were voluntary because Mr. A refused to wear Depends. Mr.
A denied having any medical needs to OCO staff and appeared in denial overall
regarding his condition; early signs of senility also appeared to be a factor. OCO was
unable to effect change for Mr. A.
Mr. B is an incarcerated veteran who has suffered from a substance abuse disorder,
which led to a violent crime. He was incarcerated in 2002 with an early release date of
September 2019. While incarcerated, Mr. B participated in every program possible,
and by the end of his sentence, he was leading classes as a mentor in the therapeutic
community for drug treatment. He was still denied the ability to enter work release due
to having “limited crime related programming” and that his crimes were “concerning.”
OCO was unable to effect change for Mr. B.

2. Understanding that family connections are a proven positive
factor in reducing recidivism, DOC should proactively look to
maximize family connections whenever possible and prohibit
the complete restriction of family connections, except where
there is a clear and present security concern presented.
Governor Inslee has long recognized and promoted the importance of family
connections on positive reentry outcomes. Positively, DOC has several innovative
programs – such as extended family visitation (EFV), Camp Kubi, and the nursery at
WCCW – that are at the forefront nationally. However, these programs impact a small
number of people. The larger reality is that DOC uses family connections as part of its
standard system of punishment, even stacking penalties that can extend for months,
even for small infractions. Phones, electronic communications, and direct visitation are
some of the first privileges to be taken. Considering the incidence of mental illness, low
impulse control, and failure to consider rational consequences that may have led them
to prison in the first place, these restrictions often fail to have the deterrent effect
intended and instead result in further harm to the individual. DOC also often disregards
a court’s Judgment and Sentence to authorize visitation based on its own criteria, which
in cases involving a sex offense, includes that a person is lawfully pursuing an appeal.
Further, OCO has received several complaints from family members of incarcerated
people who have themselves been on the receiving end of DOC discipline for minor
infractions, although they have committed no crime.


RCW 72.09.015 should be changed to include aunt, uncle, cousin, niece,
nephew, and others as part of the “immediate family” definition for the
purposes of extended family visitation.



DOC should prohibit the complete separation of incarcerated individuals
from their families, such as through disciplinary sanctions, unless there is
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 17

a clear and present security concern presented by the relationship or
person. Regardless of the person’s behavior, incarcerated individuals
should have access to family visitation even while in restrictive housing.


Visitation restrictions should be used sparingly and only when there is a
clear danger to the visitor or institution. If the visitor is restricted due to the
visitor’s behavior, it should be on a graduated, escalating scale in line with
the security threat presented by the visitor.



DOC should actively increase whenever possible communication between
the incarcerated population and families, such as through adding
telephones to housing units and messaging/video visitation facilities.



DOC should increase the number of family-friendly activities and ensure
that all types of family have opportunities.

Case Example: Family Connections
Mr. C’s wife and mother of his child has been denied visitation due to being a codefendant of the crime leading to incarceration five years ago. Mr. C’s wife has
since completed all DOC requirements of her own and is a law abiding citizen. Mr.
C has denounced the gang he was in, moved to the Twin Rivers Unit, holds a
trusted job, participates in Toastmasters and has never received a serious
infraction. Despite these clear efforts toward rehabilitation, they are still denied
visits due to DOC policy and Mr. C’s child is not able to visit with both his mother
and father in the same room. OCO was unable to effect change for Mr. C.
Ms. D had a meeting with medical/custody staff at Monroe Correctional Complex –
Twin Rivers Unit to discuss her incarcerated husband’s healthcare. Upon arrival,
she was told that she could not bring her purse into the meeting but would have to
place her purse in her car. She questioned that option given that she had been
allowed to bring her purse in before for similar meetings. She asked if the
Superintendent could confirm this, who reiterated that she needed to leave the
purse in her car, which she did. No further discussion with staff on the matter
occurred. After the meeting was completed, and after her visit the following day
with her husband, she returned to her car to find an email with an official form letter
that barred her from visitation with her husband for six months because she had
allegedly been “rude and disrespectful” to staff. OCO staff had been present during
the incident in question and rejected this allegation. After an appeal to the Prisons
Director and the OCO’s intervention, the restriction was reduced from six months
to 60 days, but it was not completely lifted. Ms. D was also immediately removed
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 18

from the Monroe Correctional Complex local family council and, by telephone, was
removed as the Family Co-chair, unable to meet her duties at the upcoming
meeting of the Statewide Family Council. OCO was not able to effect further
change for Ms. D.

3. DOC should significantly improve quality of, access to, and
oversight of its health services, particularly medical care.
OCO’s largest area of concern with regard to conditions of confinement for persons
incarcerated in DOC is in health services. Over 20% of complaints pertain to allegations
of poor quality of health care or inability to access health care. Common issues include
scheduling errors, lack of oversight/auditing/quality assurance, medication errors, failure
to receive treatment, and failure to both see an outside specialist and for DOC to follow
that specialist’s recommendations. Further, OCO has received several very disturbing
allegations regarding inadequate medical care directly leading to an incarcerated
person’s death. OCO has submitted a decision package for an additional FTE to focus
on deaths in custody and produce public reports as it does not currently have the
capacity to give deaths in custody the attention that they deserve.


Create an improved quality assurance feedback loop so that health
services administrators are made aware of medical error incidents,
whether reported via grievances, medication error reports, or any other
format.



Strengthen the internal audit process for health services based on a
broad review of comparable audits of healthcare facilities and ensure
accountability.



Pursue external accreditation by a nationally recognized accrediting
body for correctional health services.



Ensure each facility holds regular CQI meetings, per policy, and that
the information from those meetings is communicated to HQ staff with
action taken when needed.



Develop an established process that includes both qualitative and
quantitative data for HQ Health Services Administrators to become
proactively aware of concerning trends or actions at each facility.



Conduct a review of current scheduling practices at each facility and
determine a best practice to be implemented.



Conduct a review of current practices for sending patients out for
medical appointments, particularly of cancellations and reschedules,
and the impact on patient health. DOC should develop a tracking and
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 19

reporting system to ensure that patients whose medical appointments
are cancelled are reviewed by a physician and prioritized for
reschedule.


Conduct a review and create a process for greater consistency in
decisions made by health services staff across DOC, as well as by the
Care Review Committee, which could include modifying the Care
Review Committee participant structure. Implement standardized
criteria for treatment decisions and make this criteria transparent.
Ensure a meaningful appeal exists for CRC decisions.



Conduct a review and determine how to provide greater transparency
and criteria for DOC staff’s decision to not follow a specialist's
recommendations.



Conduct a review of medication changes upon entry to DOC due to
DOC formulary and improve protocols so that either assessment
occurs immediately upon entry to DOC or that treatment continues until
assessment.



From the point that medical staff identify that cancer is a possible
cause for concern for a patient, there needs to be an expedited track
for biopsy, diagnosis, and a specialist visit with an oncologist, followed
by whatever treatment is determined by that specialist to be necessary.
Delays in treatment need to be immediately addressed.



Improve training for medical staff on transgender health care.



DOC Health Services needs to evaluate and provide better quality of
care for orthopedic concerns.



DOC should ensure that every incarcerated person who is receiving
mental health related medications is thoroughly evaluated and notified
of any changes to medications prior to discontinuing that medication.



DOC should be required to produce an annual public report on deaths
in custody that provides an explanation of cause of death and any
findings/recommendations developed by the Department of Health
review and/or Critical Incident Review.

Case Examples – Health Services
Mr. E was diagnosed with cancer after tumor biopsy. He was ordered radiation and
chemotherapy. Due to administrative errors, his move to Monroe Correctional
Complex for care was delayed. After the move, Mr. E still never received treatment
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 20

even after grieving multiple times. He has since been told that he has six months to
live.
During a medical appointment, a nurse identified a concerning lump in Mr. F’s
breast. As the lump was not the main complaint for the visit, the lump was not
investigated. Despite grieving and repeated visits to medical, Mr. F did not see an
oncologist for almost six months. The oncologist determined that he needed
immediate and aggressive surgical intervention, chemotherapy, and radiation
treatment. Mr. F was not offered any treatment for a further three months, at which
point he opted for comfort measures only. Mr. F has since passed. OCO
conducted an investigation and a report is forthcoming.
Mr. G is a 40 year old male with a complete humeral spiral fracture to his left arm.
He describes hearing the bones click and pop when they rub together. He was only
provided three days of pain medication. At the hospital he was provided a full arm
sling but the sling was removed by DOC and he was given a small wrist to
shoulder sling, which did not support healing. Currently his arm hangs from upper
shoulder and is not supported nor healing well. He was denied by the Care Review
Committee an outside specialist visit until OCO became involved. The DOC
Rubicon system (external standard) indicated that Mr. G required more treatment.
DOC reports they will wait to see if the healed curvature is over 30% off from
normal, then they will provide more treatment. According to Mr. G, he has lost
movement and has extensive nerve pain. OCO was unable to effect change for Mr.
G.
Mr. H was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. DOC stopped his arthritis
medications. He now lives with knee pain and swelling but is only allowed to have
Tylenol for pain. He wants to go back on his Arthritis medication. OCO was unable
to effect change for Mr. H.

4. DOC should create better access to healthy food, including
prioritizing fresh produce, less processed products, and quality
protein, through greater utilization of incarcerated workers who
can then gain skills for reentry success.
Operating with a reentry lens, returning citizens to the community healthy and with an
understanding of healthy food choices is an overall benefit to the public. Several years
ago, DOC made the switch to using Correctional Industries (CI) for food production,
which engages in a mass production modality for food services. This shift has resulted
in food products that are more processed, and incarcerated individuals have reported
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 21

ongoing concerns regarding both quality and quantity. Not only has this led to a
substantial amount of food waste and over-reliance by the incarcerated population on
junk food provided by the CI commissary, three major food strikes have occurred at
facilities in the past year and a half. Consequently, food quality is a security and
population management issue as well. In recent years, much advocate attention has
been given to the implementation of the Governor’s Executive Order 13-06, which
requires a greater quantity and variety of protein and vegetables. Higher quality choices
require higher funding, and yet the average cost per meal ($1.50) remains low.


DOC should increase the amount of money that it pays per meal. The
current rate of $1.50 per meal necessarily results in a lower quality
product.



CI should conduct a full evaluation and development of creative
thinking around potential new ideas of food services delivery, recentering the incarcerated population as its primary customer and
including their input, perspective, and expertise in the development
process.



CI should also consider re-positioning its role as a vendor of food
products like any other that facilities can choose to purchase from – CI
would have the advantage of being able to provide pre-packaged
options that meet the DGA for institutions that choose to utilize its
services.



Create more opportunities for incarcerated individuals to participate
and be trained in food preparation, with a goal of earning a certificate
and personal recommendation/reference that would facilitate
employment upon release.



Utilize experienced food services staff to conduct a review of food
preparation practices by institutions that did not transition to the closed
loop CI system and determine where food purchasing and preparation
practices could be improved to overall improve the taste and quality of
the food served to the correctional population.



DOC and CI should improve internal oversight and accountability
practices, such as through required sampling and picture of each meal
by institutional administrative staff and formal channels to receive
feedback and suggested improvements by the incarcerated population.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 22

Case Examples – Quality of Food
In April 2018, more than half the incarcerated population in Washington State
Penitentiary engaged in a mass food strike to protest the poor quality of the food.
The food strike involved multiple units and incarcerated individuals working in
concert across the racial/geographic lines that usually separate them. The strike
lasted over a week. A primary concern of the incarcerated individuals was the
quality of the food and the reheating protocols. Unlike other institutions that have a
kitchen to freshly cook food and a dining hall to serve the population, WSP’s
decision a decade ago to remove the kitchen and dining hall and subsequently to
utilize CI’s cook-chill method means that the food goes through a multi-step process
that would make even the best quality food challenging to serve. The food is
actually cooked and prepared in CI’s food factory at another institution, then
reheated at WSP to be portioned into food trays, which then have to be loaded into
carts to take to the individual housing units, and then re-heated again prior to
serving. Incarcerated individuals report that portions of the meal are often
overcooked to the point of burning or undercooked with portions still frozen.
Institutional issues like recounts and staff discord further compound the situation.
DOC attempted to fix the issue by installing reheating ovens on each housing unit,
but while an improvement, the ovens often break down and preclude other potential
solutions, and concerns regarding the quality of the food persist.
Incarcerated individuals at Coyote Ridge Correctional Center engaged in a similar
food strike in 2019. DOC responded with implementing a hot breakfast after
receiving funding from the legislature. A third strike occurred in October 2019 at
Clallam Bay Corrections Center. These disturbances highlight the important
connection between food quality and institutional safety and security.

5. DOC should ensure incarcerated individuals with a mental
health diagnosis receive special – and different – consideration
when involved in the internal DOC disciplinary system.
OCO has set as a strategic priority for 2020 conducting a full review of DOC’s mental
health services and expects to have a fuller analysis and recommendations for
improvement in the 2020 annual report. Key concerns that have been brought to OCO’s
attention in its first year, however, revolve around the internal disciplinary system,
including the hearings process and restrictive housing, and the impact on those
individuals on the mental health caseload. In a laudable move, DOC is partnering with
the Vera Institute for a second time to create even greater improvements in its
restrictive housing practices. However, at the current time, there are no specific
initiatives that recognize the disparate impact of the disciplinary system and restrictive

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 23

housing and provide for special and different treatment of individuals on the mental
health caseload.


DOC should ensure that those on the mental health caseload receive
an expedited investigation, review, and hearing to reduce the total time
in restrictive housing.



DOC should ensure that disciplinary hearings officers receive
specialized mental health training related to the impact of restrictive
housing on mental health and the various symptoms and
manifestations of mental illness as it relates to behavior.



DOC should ensure that all seriously mentally ill incarcerated persons
who receive a major infraction are supported and represented by
mental health staff during the hearings process. Sanctions should be
imposed only after reviewed with a mental health lens and written
consideration of the potential impact on the person.



DOC should reform the disciplinary structure in the residential
treatment units at the Monroe Correctional Complex – SOU and the
Washington Corrections Center for Women. Disciplinary decisions –
starting with the decision to infract in the first place – should be made
with mental health staff involved on the front end in a formalized
process rather than as a secondary consideration and involvement.

Case Examples – Disciplinary Hearings and Sanctions
Mr. I at Airway Heights was serving a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative
(DOSA) sentence. His DOSA was terminated due to receiving an infraction for
violation of rule 716 – unauthorized use of medication. The unauthorized use was
in pursuit of a suicide attempt using over the counter medication. Mr. I had a repeat
history of suicide attempts and self-harm. OCO intervened, resulting in the
overturning of the infraction. However, DOC did not overturn the separate rule 509
infraction that dealt with the actual revocation of DOSA. OCO intervened a second
time by raising concerns regarding Mr. I’s disciplinary hearing, in which it was
evident that the person needed assistance due to his mental and learning
disabilities. The disciplinary hearing officer recognized Mr. I’s disabilities, but did
not provide for assistance by mental health staff, which is contrary to policy.
Further, the disciplinary officer counted against Mr. I that he had “disrupted” his
drug treatment multiple times due to declaring mental health emergencies. DOC
agreed to re-hear the case, ultimately reinstating DOSA and releasing Mr. I.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 24

Ms. J was given a DOSA sentence and started Therapeutic Community. She has a
mental health diagnosis and was placed on a medication by DOC Mental Health.
The medication she was taking has a side effect of painful/difficult urination. Her
medication was increased and she was required to provide a urinalysis sample
three times in the 30 days directly after the medication increase. She could not
produce urine and told DOC she thought it was due to her medication. She was
nevertheless infracted. This resulted in a DOSA termination hearing. She was not
given an attorney at the hearing and her DOSA was terminated. OCO researched
the medication and was able to substantiate her concerns. Ms. J was granted a
new hearing and an attorney. Her DOSA was reinstated once the evidence was
presented.

6. DOC should ensure incarcerated individuals with disabilities
have equal access to programs, services, activities, and the
grievance program.
OCO conducted a systemic review of concerns related to incarcerated individuals
with disabilities and produced a series of recommendations to address them.
Individuals with functional disabilities are impacted throughout most of DOC’s
systems and processes, including classification, programming, education, and the
grievance process, among others. This review primarily focused on concerns related
to the reasonable accommodation request process. This is the process by which an
incarcerated individual with a disability that substantially limits one or more major life
activities can request a reasonable accommodation from DOC that would enable
their access to programs, services, and activities while in custody. OCO is in the
process of discussing these recommendations with DOC and producing a
comprehensive report. The following is a summary of the main recommendations:


DOC should ensure all staff, particularly institutional ADA Coordinators
and Grievance Coordinators, receive additional training on disabilities,
particularly mental or otherwise unseen disabilities. DOC should
provide written guidelines that better delineate the ADA Coordinator
role and ensure ADA Coordinators have adequate time to perform their
duties.



DOC should develop and implement enhanced screening methods and
procedures to identify people with disabilities at reception and
periodically throughout incarceration. DOC should ensure that
individuals with learning disabilities are properly assessed by a trained
and authorized medical provider.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 25



DOC should ensure that the Accommodation Status Request (ASR)
process is implemented properly and that requests are responded to
within 14 days. DOC should ensure that all ASRs are documented in
OMNI and establish a clear appeal process for ASR denials.



DOC should ensure access to the law library by clarifying the role of
Access Assistants and ensure speech to text software is functional in
every facility.



DOC should ensure availability of interpreter services, including on-site
ASL interpreters and video relay interpreters.



DOC should establish a unit to support individuals with complex
medical and mental health needs, similar to Sage Unit, for individuals
who require medium custody.

Case Example – Persons with Disabilities
OCO was contacted by Mr. K, an individual with a mental health disorder and
traumatic brain injury who had extreme sensitivity to stimuli such as fans, radios, and
televisions. DOC had approved a housing modification to accommodate this
disability. However, when this modification was set to expire, DOC refused to renew
it because Mr. K’s providers claimed the man needed to learn how to survive without
it. Despite Mr. K’s pleas, he was re-assigned to a cell with a person who used
several loud devices, including a musical instrument. This resulted in Mr. K
experiencing such significant anxiety and psychological suffering that he fled on foot
into the forest soon after being moved.

7. DOC should apply a trauma-informed and gender-responsive
lens to programs, services, staff training, and conditions of
confinement, particularly for women and LGBTQI individuals
across facilities.
As with many other correctional systems in the nation, prison facilities, practices,
procedures, and protocols in Washington are created for the cisgender male population.
When applied to the female, transgender, and non-binary populations, however, these
same policies and practices may no longer serve any penological interest and can
become traumatizing. OCO recently conducted a survey of every incarcerated female in
DOC and will be publishing the results in a separate report. The voices of the
incarcerated women amplified through the report lift up the systemic issues that
negatively impact the women, starting first and foremost with the extremely problematic
placement of women at Yakima County Jail. DOC needs to adopt a trauma-informed
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 26

and gender-responsive lens to instruct all correctional practices, programs, services,
and staff training surrounding the female, transgender, and nonbinary populations.


DOC should implement the Gender-Responsive Policy & Practice
Assessment (GRPPA) and ensure that it addresses the needs of the
transgender and gender-nonconforming population in addition to
women.



DOC should implement a gender responsive classification tool.



DOC should implement trauma-informed disciplinary processes to
address aggressive and other antisocial behaviors instead of using
restrictive housing. DOC should also find alternative safe housing
arrangements for alleged victims of sexual assault and harassment
other than segregation to ensure minimal disruption to programming,
education, and well-being.



DOC should ensure Pathways and Perspectives trainings for staff
working with female inmates is re-implemented and ongoing training
provided. All staff at all facilities should receive training on gender and
sexuality, race, and disability.



End the use of Yakima Jail for overcrowding. Instead, a combination of
re-classification and overrides should be used to house the average of
40-60 person over-capacity issues.



Staff should work actively to provide transgender people programing
and support specific to their gender identity. This would include:



Implementing model programs, including current groups at WSR and
TRU and the monthly inmate led Gender Classes provided at WCCW.



Make-up should not only be available in men’s facilities by direct pay.
DOC is evaluating this process and states that it will consider order by
family and friends after a trial period. We recommend that DOC align
the pay options with those provided for the women’s facilities.



Transgender persons’ safety concerns and housing placement
preferences should be given higher consideration, particularly when
disciplinary actions lead to classification changes.



Disciplinary infractions and sanctions that involve the LGBTIQ
population, particularly the transgender population, such as longer than
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 27

average placements in restrictive housing, should be documented and
tracked for suspected disparate application.


Transgender and nonbinary or gender nonconforming people in prison
should receive access to nondiscriminatory and medically necessary
gendering affirming care.



Staff should utilize the person’s legal name rather than the name they
under which they were originally incarcerated, and encourage the
proper usage of pronouns for transgender and gender nonconforming
inmates.

Case Example – Gender Equity
Ms. L, a transgender woman housed at WSP, contacted OCO after being infracted
for making a homemade makeup tool out of a mechanical pencil to help her
separate her homemade mascara. She had also altered some clothing items to
appear more feminine. She contacted us afraid that a major infraction would affect
her current housing placement, and she was afraid for her safety if she was
moved. She also feared that she was being targeted for her transgender status.
OCO worked with facility leadership to ensure recognition of the reality that the use
of makeup helps alleviate gender dysphoria for some transgender people, and that
a new policy was forthcoming that would allow the purchase of makeup for
transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in men’s facilities. DOC staff
reduced her infraction from a major to two minors so that it would not affect her
classification level. However, DOC staff did not remove all infractions even in light
of the intentions around the new policy, as the policy had not yet been
implemented. OCO was not able to effect further change for Ms. L.
Ms. M contacted OCO after attempting suicide while in a work release facility and
subsequent return prison. Ms. M had been denied access by work release staff to
seek mental health support and treatment that included Medication-Assisted
Treatment for opioid dependence. At a loss, Ms. M attempted suicide by overdose
while offsite from the work release facility. She was luckily found and hospitalized
quickly. Ms. M was then returned to WCCW where she was able to stabilize and
enter the MAT treatment program onsite. OCO worked with DOC leadership to
enable Ms. M’s return to the work release and ability to both enter MAT treatment
and necessary therapy while pursuing her job options. DOC leadership is also
planning to work generally to ensure individuals in work release are encouraged to
seek needed treatment and do not face stigma due to efforts to seek MAT
treatment.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 28

VII. Stakeholder Outreach and Input
Community outreach has been an important and necessary component of OCO’s first
year. OCO Director Carns conducted tours of all of the DOC institutions and met with
DOC executive staff and the incarcerated tier representatives as part of her onboarding. As new staff joined OCO, they also toured the institutions within their service
area and met with the incarcerated population. OCO also requested that contact
information for OCO be posted in every housing unit across DOC, and rolled out the
statutorily-required hotline for incarcerated individuals to call with complaints in January.
OCO staff continue to work towards ensuring active presence and accessibility for the
incarcerated population.
OCO further engaged with non-incarcerated stakeholders and the community through a
variety of methods, including:


Quarterly public stakeholder meetings, required per RCW 43.06C.040:
12/13/18

Tukwila, WA

3/20/19

Sea-Tac, WA

5/22/19

Spokane, WA

9/12/19

Olympia, WA



Attending every DOC Statewide Family Council Meeting and attending every
local family council meeting at least two to three times during the year.



Regularly attending Reentry Council, Children of Incarcerated Parents, Coalition
to Create an Independent Corrections Ombuds, and other coalition meetings.



Meeting with every tier representative group at the institutions at least twice, with
some more frequently.



Attending the Black Prisoners Caucus Summit in Spokane, the Concerned Lifers
Organization in Monroe, and several cultural events, including two local powwows.



Half of OCO’s staff attended the Community Partnership for Transition Services
annual conference at The Evergreen State College.



Director Carns gathered stakeholder input into OCO priorities as part of our
strategic planning meeting. The stakeholder input was gathered via a survey that
was sent out to several hundred persons who were on the DOC Statewide
Family Council listserv and the Coalition for an Independent Ombuds list. The
survey with the results are attached as an addendum to this report.
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 29



Director Carns also reached out to the Statewide Family Council for any
comments or input that they would like to see included in this report. OCO
received back the following responses:
1. “I think that there are many, many folks that are incarcerated that do not
really understand what your office does (and does not do). I’m not sure
how you could pull it off, but any face to face contact that could be made
with the incarcerated population to continue to educate on what your role
is would be helpful.”
2. “It has been great and very helpful to have OCO staff present at Local
and Statewide Family Council meetings. The effect on DOC
responsiveness and on the power imbalance between DOC and families
is quite noticeable. The OCO has done a good job of including
stakeholders in its work. I hear its staff are attending a lot of various
community council and coalition meetings as well. However, there is a
concern among some families of the incarcerated that the OCO might be
devoting too much of its resources to attending too many community
meetings. Attendance at community group meetings should be balanced
in such a way as to ensure that staff still have time to address individual
prisoner complaints.
I have concerns that the OCO might be shifting from working on individual
cases to focusing more on systemic issues. If the OCO were to do so, the
OCO would be just another ACLU of WA type entity. Since I was a legal
department intern for the ACLU of WA working on prison and jail
complaints in 2015, I know exactly how the ACLU of WA uses individual
prisoner/inmate complaints to track systemic issues without actually
addressing individual concerns in most cases. The OCO should be
something different. The ACLU of WA is already filling the role in this
state of an entity that uses individual complaints to track systemic issues
without actually addressing individual concerns in most cases. If the OCO
steps away from addressing individual complaints, there will be no entity
in the state that fills that role. Stakeholders who advocated for the
creation of the OCO wanted the OCO because entities like ACLU of WA,
Columbia Legal, and DRW are not filling the kind of role we need an OCO
type entity to fill.
I am concerned that the OCO is too cautious about rubbing WA DOC the
wrong way to do proper investigative work on Correctional Industries
operations. For example, I have not seen or heard evidence that the OCO
is going into the prisons unannounced to monitor whether food served
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 30

matches menu claims or collecting samples for independent labs to carry
out nutrient analyses on. I know it is a tough balance to strike to keep a
constructive working relationship with DOC and to carry out investigative
work, but my hope is that the OCO will err on the side of emphasizing its
oversight role if there is ever a grey area. Correctional Industries is a
master of smoke and mirrors and deceives legislators and the public all
the time with optimistic cosmetic appearances. The OCO must be able
not only to see through that, but also find ways to get behind the mirrors
and reveal the underlying practices. Alliances with custody staff who are
tired of CI practices that make their jobs more unsafe might be a good
asset if an ally within DOC must be found.
The OCO's use of online surveys to gather input from free world
stakeholders and paper surveys to gather input from the incarcerated has
been an excellent approach. I hope this is a permanent practice. It builds
a lot of trust and enhances the OCO's ability to be inclusive while
operating on limited funding.
I would like to see a section in the OCO's upcoming report explaining
ways in which OCO collaborates and/or shares information with other
state agencies besides DOC, such as DOH, Department of Commerce,
etc. I would also like to see a section explaining the specific types of work
OCO has interns and volunteers doing, perhaps with an estimate of the
dollar value of volunteer contributions. I also hope the report identifies top
areas of concern the OCO will aim to address in 2020.”
3. “During the last year since we have had the OCO I have noticed a sense
of more support for families during the Statewide Family Council
meetings. I think both the family volunteers and the DOC staff are aware
of the presence of the OCO during these meetings. The power dynamic
is heavily on the side of the DOC. Family members at the meetings
sometimes do not feel heard by the DOC when they raise concerns. Now
families know that they will be taken more seriously. The OCO
representative does not interfere with the proceedings but will briefly
comment when clarification is needed and provide useful information.
At the last SFC meeting there was a contentious issue about the DOC’s
unilateral removal of the SFC chair. The Ombuds representative stated
her support of the concerns raised by the family and also clarified that the
office did not agree with the DOC’s statement about what happened at an
unrelated meeting in which the SFC chair was deemed not respectful and
was then banned from visiting her husband for 6 months and also
removed from chairing the SFC. The DOC may have decided to
Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 31

“increase sanctions” on prisoners and on visiting family members, as was
stated by a DOC representative. Some family members wondered
whether this action by DOC was meant to send a chilling message to
prisoners and families that contact with their loved ones would be used as
a tool for punishment. The OCO is able to help family members and
prisoners get information and a better chance at fairness in this sort of
dispute.
I think the OCO has been a great success so far. When I go to the
Governor’s Reentry Council meetings I see that a representative from
OCO is there to witness the proceedings. The OCO also holds frequent
and regular stakeholder meetings in different parts of the state so that
interested parties can know the issues that are being addressed. I hope
the OCO can continue to advocate for prisoners and their families in
Washington.”
4. “The creating of the Ombuds office has been at positive move in regards
to safety of the incarcerated and a great help to families. With the
reporting of what is really going on in the prison system as it is now. This
office is professional and concise. Timely responses and work on
solutions with both the incarcerated and the DOC. It’s clear to me that the
DOC needs to change the approach of corrections into positive reform.
That DOC staff needs to be educated in gender equality and treatment of
people. If you do positive input you get positive responsive action back. I
look forward to see the Ombuds office working with the Department on
these changes. They need more staff. Thank you.”
5. “I would like to comment that the OCO has been vital in addressing the
multiple and ongoing challenges and struggles faced by individuals
incarcerated in the women’s prisons and the Yakima Jail. It has also
helped multiple individuals and family members overcome inappropriate
sanctions that separate family connections. The OCO provides much
needed accountability and oversight and helps preserve and protect the
human dignity of state prisoners and their families.”
6. “Joanna and the OCO staff have been absolutely amazing at raising and
addressing important issues on behalf of the incarcerated population and
their friends and families with DOC. In the prior year we, as families, have
been able to access information on what otherwise would take years to
get through public disclosure. The incarcerated had the privilege of being
surveyed, which has never been done before. This office focuses on
results, justice and fairness to all!”

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 32

7. That you exist is critical! The law needs adjustment to support your office
with confidentiality and advocacy needs/requirements. May sound like
criticism, which is not my intention, but these are realities:
Notification to prisoners to the changes in access (grievance/appeal
process most notably) has caused issues of credibility and concern about
who the office is really supporting
Access to speaking to a person via the hotline number has reduced
considerably
Response to those requesting help (notification letter) is sometimes
nonexistent
A disclosure agreement between family/prisoner (in my case
wife/husband) would provide full support from all perspectives. If I file a
claim with the OCO regarding the treatment/care of my husband we
should all then have access to one another in resolving the issue. Access
for prisoners is extremely limited, mostly in time.

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 33

ADDENDUM – OCO Stakeholder Feedback for Strategic Planning

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 35

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 36

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 37

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 38

Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 39

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Office of the Corrections Ombuds l 41

 

 

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