COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA
DEPARTMENT OF JUVENILE JUSTICE
866-721-6924 (toll free)
Susan Kirkley Heck
The Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) Ombudsman Program began in 2002. It is staffed by an ombudsman located in Central Office and grievance coordinators in each of the Department’s juvenile correctional centers.
The Ombudsman Program monitors conditions of confinement and resident services, serving as an “early warning system” to address problems before they become systemic. It helps protect the rights of committed youth and promotes system accountability. It monitors conditions of confinement, helping to ensure an environment and culture that best supports residents and their rehabilitation efforts.
Key components of the Ombudsman Program include the program’s staff; Standard Operating Procedure 105 Resident Grievance Procedure; orientations on using the grievance system given to all residents and staff; and Resident Advisory Committees in each facility.
The program is staffed by an agency wide ombudsman and grievance coordinators in each of the juvenile correctional centers. This staffing structure, which includes staff within facilities and a central office position, provides a unique and balanced view of facility strengths and challenges and an objective approach to resolving problems.
The DJJ’s ombudsman visits all juvenile correctional centers and maintains relationships with administrative staff, counselors, treatment providers, medical staff, food service staff, correctional officers and residents in each facility. Areas of concern are discussed with facility and agency leadership and may include suggestions for remedies or solutions for identified concerns.
The ombudsman also serves as the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) coordinator for the DJJ. Duties in this area include ensuring agency compliance with the national PREA standards, monitoring the PREA Reporting Line, working with each facility’s PREA compliance manager, and overseeing PREA prevention and safety efforts.
Click below to go to the National PREA Resource Center.
The National PREA Resource Center
The Grievance Coordinator is the resident advocate in each facility. The grievance coordinator advocates for safe and humane living conditions and appropriate service delivery for residents. The grievance coordinator notifies the facility superintendent and ombudsman if any problems are identified.
Duties include collecting, logging, and investigating grievances and meeting with residents to discuss remedies and resolutions. The grievance coordinator serves on facility committees and provides assistance on facility initiatives as requested or needed.
Additionally, the grievance coordinator facilitates the monthly Resident Advisory Committee meetings. Issues arising from housing unit meetings are forwarded to the grievance coordinator for inclusion on the monthly agenda. After the meetings, the grievance coordinator follows up on any unresolved concerns.
The Grievance Procedure
The Grievance Procedure is the tool given to incarcerated youth to alert the facility’s administration when there is a misinterpretation or misapplication of an institutional policy or procedure. It provides a formalized process to deal with residents’ institution-specific complaints, and the grievance coordinator in each facility manages this part of the program.
Residents submit grievances on standardized forms which are placed in locked boxes in living units and in other easily accessible locations. The grievance coordinator and the facility superintendent maintain all grievance box keys.
Grievance Procedure Orientation
An orientation to the Grievance Procedure is provided to all residents and staff members. Using a video produced in 2005 to ensure consistency, residents learn about the grievance process and how to use the grievance form. The orientation emphasizes getting issues resolved at the lowest level possible and teaches the differences between a request and a grievance. It is shown to residents upon their arrival at the Reception and Diagnostic Center and again when they are moved to their assigned correctional center.
Resident Advisory Committee
Resident Advisory Committee meetings help youth develop leadership skills and provide a way for residents to have input into the facility issues impacting their lives. These meetings operate under established bylaws.
Prior to the meeting, resident representatives and housing unit managers meet to discuss items for the Resident Advisory Committee meeting agenda. Issues are forwarded to the grievance coordinator or inclusion on the agenda. During Resident Advisory Committee meetings, designated representatives from each housing unit meet with administrative staff, teachers, food service managers and workers, health care workers, and maintenance representatives to discuss concerns identified during housing unit meetings. The grievance coordinator facilitates the meeting and takes notes on the concerns of the housing units.