RICHMOND, Va. – This week Virginia lawmakers voted on a budget that includes funding for an independent office to oversee the Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC), signaling the end of an era in which the largest agency in Virginia is entrusted with policing itself. The new ombudsman office will monitor conditions at VADOC facilities and make recommendations, among other responsibilities. 

In response to the news, the following statement can be attributed to ACLU of Virginia Policy and Advocacy Strategist Shawn Weneta: 

“VADOC has an annual budget of $1.5 billion and total control over the lives of approximately 25,000 Virginians, yet it doesn’t have to share almost any information with the people who fund it: taxpayers. Neither the public, the media, nor even elected officials really know what goes on behind prison walls. 

“That’s why lawmakers’ first step towards creating meaningful oversight of VADOC is so significant. We’re pleased to see this year’s budget include funds for the establishment of an independent ombudsman’s office that will begin the work of rooting out waste, fraud, abuse and corruption in the prison system. 

“Everyone’s safety – both prison staff and people who are incarcerated – depends on independent oversight. It’s thanks to bipartisan support from legislators in both the House and the Senate that this budget, once signed, will finally give Virginians the first glimmer of access to what the largest agency in the Commonwealth does behind closed doors. To create a truly unbiased office, it will be crucial to ensure independent appointment of the ombudsman and that legislation is passed providing the office with the resources it needs to be effective. We look forward to continuing this crucial work with lawmakers and those in power to bring transparency and accountability to Virginia’s prisons.”