Virginia Department of Corrections
The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) desired to develop a system addressing individuals in restrictive housing units who refused to leave segregation and who were fearful of living in the general prison population. To reduce the number of individuals who refused to move out of segregation, the department developed a program that provides skills and motivation for people to safely reintegrate into mainstream general prison population while also receiving reentry programming if close to release. As a result of the STAR program, nearly 1,200 individuals initially refusing to move out of segregation have been successfully moved out of segregation since 2013.
The goal of the STAR program is to reduce the number of individuals housed in segregation because of their refusal to live in the general population. In 2013, the department discovered that more than 100 individuals throughout the state had maintained a year or more in a short-term restrictive housing environment due to their refusal to enter the general population. These people expressed fear of living among other incarcerated people because of their age (both young and geriatric), their physical appearance, being a newly incarcerated person, concerns about gang intimidation, being low functioning, having a mental illness, or having a short incarceration time remaining.
The STAR program was conceived after the implementation of the award-winning Restrictive Housing Reduction Step-Down Programs at Red Onion State Prison (ROSP) and Wallens Ridge State Prison (WRSP). VADOC established a Segregation Management Task Force, who conducted interviews with each identified individual to understand their underlying concerns for reluctance to progress into general population. This interviewing process resulted in recommendations to develop programming to aid individuals housed in short-term restrictive housing units—who did not pose active behavioral risks—but still refused to leave segregation.
The STAR program was piloted at Keen Mountain Correctional Center (KMCC) in 2013 by Warden Leslie “Moose” Fleming, Institutional Program Manager Yvonne Taylor, and KMCC staff. KMCC is classified as a Security Level 4 major institution. KMCC developed a four-step program by selecting a cognitive series of programs titled “Brave” which requires the completion of seven manuals. KMCC staff were trained in program facilitation. The first STAR participants were received in December of 2013.
In 2016, the STAR program was developed for a higher security level facility, Wallens Ridge State Prison, classified as Security Level 5. Leading its implementation at WRSP was Warden Leslie “Moose” Fleming, Unit Manager Quinn Reynolds, Counselor Heather Osbourne and WRSP staff.
The STAR program aims to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals housed in segregation or restrictive housing due to their own fears of living in the general prison population. At its core, STAR provides this group of individuals with the tools, programming, and affirmations to help them build confidence in their abilty to safely thrive among other incarcerated people. Staff assigned to STAR are trained to listen to these individuals, show empathy, and have patience. Additionally, staff are trained to facilitate evidence-based programming such as Interactive Journaling by the Change Companies® to include Effective Communication and Motivational Interviewing. This is helpful in determining the reason an individual is refusing a general population assignment while also developing a specific management plan that addresses that individual’s motivation and needs. The program focuses on increasing socialization and using effective communication skills.
VADOC procedures were revised to provide information statewide on the program and on how to submit individuals for consideration. Locally, the facility informed staff of the new program, known as the Steps to Achieve Reintegration (STAR) program, through implementation memorandum.
To be assigned to STAR, an incarcerated person’s current institution must submit a recommendation of transfer to Central Classification Services (CCS) with a case analysis and mental health review. After review by CCS, eligible participants are reviewed by the facility unit head and the regional operations chief. Both must approve the assignment to STAR.
When an individual is initially assigned to the STAR program, he meets the program review team. This team includes the chief of housing and programs, the institutional program manager, the unit manager for STAR, a qualified mental health professional, counselors, and security staff. The team interviews each individual to determine his reason for remaining in segregation and his STAR program goals. The program review team also reviews the individual’s institutional adjustment including disciplinary charges during the past 24 months, educational and program attendance/completions/refusals, mental health status, and release date. After explaining the methodology of the STAR program with the individual, the program review team assigns the person to the appropriate and least restrictive level of the program based on their needs assessment.
Participants in the STAR program immediately experience increased out-of-cell time, congregate activities, double celled housing, and intensive programming similar to the conditions seen in a mainstream general population environment.
Individuals who enter the STAR program are reviewed after six months. If during those six months they have not received any disciplinary charges or segregation assignments, they are eligible to request a transfer.
Since the inception of the STAR program at KMCC, 1,157 individuals have been assigned to participate. Currently, there are 111 people in the program. To date, 238 people have completed the program and moved to general population at KMCC. Another 381 have completed the program at KMCC and transferred to other institutions. Two hundred (200) have completed the program and been released from KMCC into the community, and 72 have transferred to other appropriate housing assignments such as mental health units, protective custody, or medical assignments.
Since the inception of the STAR program at WRSP, 139 individuals have been assigned to participate. Currently there are 65 people in the program. To date, 42 people have completed the program and moved to general population at WRSP, 13 people have completed the program and been released from KMCC into the community, and seven have transferred to other appropriate housing assignments such as mental health units, protective custody, or medical assignments.
Critical success factors have been the assembling of an experienced group of professionals who devised a realistic plan with mission-driven and achievable goals. In addition, the development of an operating procedure to support the program and the continued training of line staff has been vital. The initiative has received the full support of the executive staff and regional and local administrators. For agencies considering launching a similar program, meeting these critical factors will ensure that the program is purpose-driven and implemented with fidelity.