OCO Director's Update

OCO Logo

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a Web page.

Bookmark and Share

August 29, 2022 

Dear Stakeholders: 

Late August and early September always feel like new beginnings, and this year I feel hope and excitement about what is to come and gratitude for what was. At OCO, we have spent this past spring and summer improving our processes so we can better achieve our paramount goal: increasing positive outcomes for the incarcerated people we serve.

In my initial director message, I shared that my first priority is to embed a culture of accountability at the OCO. For us, accountability means that we are responsible for our choices and the consequences of our choices. This goal applies internally and to our work with the DOC. 

The OCO staff and I are committed to respecting the dignity of all the people living inside our state’s prisons. We follow the practical wisdom of—nothing about us, without us. Lived experience matters and is valued at the OCO: 33% of our staff know first-hand life behind bars in our state because they served time in WA DOC; over 70% of our team have either done a prison sentence or have family who are or who have served time. Embedded in all OCO decision-making and actions is the question—how can this positively impact the incarcerated people we serve?

The small and dedicated staff of the OCO provides a unique service, and we are adamant that we are responsible for delivering clear and helpful results. In 2022 we have up-leveled all aspects of the agency resulting in:

Increased Access and Improved Outcomes for Incarcerated People 

  • 142% increase in complaints received  
  • 114% increase in complaints resolved 
  • Participated in all 17 DOC Unexpected Fatality Reviews
  • Visited all 12 DOC prison facilities and most open reentry centers

Improved Office Functions to be More Responsive to Incarcerated People and the Public

  • Redesigned, trained, and delivered an improved complaint intake process, including improved hotline hours and online form, that has already increased the number of accepted complaints and provided better customer service
  • Negotiated a new Data Sharing Agreement with the DOC to expedite access to DOC records to provide swifter outcomes for incarcerated people 
  • Simplified incoming correspondence data-entry
  • Modernized records retention
  • Established the OCO Pro-Equity Anti-Racism (PEAR) Team to help all people achieve their full potential 

Improved Public Reports 

Just as we have improved the quality of our individual investigations, we are now focused on raising the impact of our public reports. Now, with our more reliable data, we can identify and report on trends. Our Monthly Outcome Reports (MORs) will continue to be where we publish the public decisions for all our investigations. With our special reports, we can highlight individual incidents while we continue to use our systemic reports to discuss issues negatively affecting multiple facilities and hundreds of incarcerated people. This year, we have published:

Since June 1, 2022, the OCO has resolved 831 complaints. Our new complaint process is making it easier for individuals to contact us, and easier for us to engage with DOC to resolve the situations. While some incarcerated individuals have family and friends who will advocate on their behalf, many do not. The OCO fills that important role for them, and we are the only organization that can provide completely confidential support for those individuals. Some outcome examples from the last three months include access to outside medical specialists and care; moving an earned release date up by seven months; modified restraints for medical transports; and 20 days of good conduct time restored.

I originally joined the OCO in March of 2020. When I applied to be the director, I knew we were in the midst of change and that the continuous improvement plan would not be completed quickly. There are a lot of structural problems in WA DOC, and bringing about positive change in our state’s prisons is our collective responsibility. As the OCO Director, I am committed to clearly and effectively communicating to the DOC problems that need to be fixed and asking for change. In return, I expect the OCO to deliver transparent, responsive, and focused results.

I am always happy to share information about the good work of the OCO, and I hope you will join us at our September 30, 2002, Quarterly Public Meeting, where there will be multiple ways stakeholders can participate in our ongoing conversation. 

Thank you for supporting the OCO and our work to increase positive outcomes for the incarcerated people we serve. 

Caitie Signature

Caitlin Robertson, PhD 

Director, Office of the Corrections Ombuds