The Office of Corrections Ombuds recently found and reported on evidence of retaliation at WA DOC’s Reynolds Work Release site. WA DOC has provided a response here, in which it states that “‘Retaliation’ is not in alignment with the Department’s values. The Department is incorporating the definition of the term ‘retaliation’ as well as examples into annual required training by all corrections staff. Assistant Secretary Armbruster will be meeting with all work release supervisors to discuss ‘retaliation’ and stress the importance of zero tolerance of retaliation within work release facilities.”
In this post, we look at what is known about retaliation in WA DOC and what a person might do to mitigate it.
Retaliation and Efforts That Backfire
- Regardless of what supervisory staff may say, retaliation occurs in WA DOC, just as it occurs in all large organizations. (See documented examples of retaliation in WA DOC here.) Retaliation happens between coworkers in WA DOC, between staff and prisoners, between staff and prisoner’s visitors, and between prisoners and other prisoners. Retaliation can occur because someone felt slighted, humiliated, undervalued, or tattled on. Retaliation is hard to prove because it often takes the form of someone behaving in a way that is technically allowed by policy, but that is markedly imbalanced or biased in how it is applied, or is radically different from previous ways of behaving. It is typically cumulative, which is to say that many small policy-approved behaviors accumulate over time to intimidate, harass, remove, or “build a case” on someone. Using policy-approved behaviors in an excessively frequent or bullying manner is undeniably retaliation, but few WA DOC supervisory staff are willing to openly acknowledge this.
- Sometimes retaliation is inevitable when raising a complaint with WA DOC staff and supervisors. Weighing the pros and cons leads many to avoid raising complaints, since precious things can be irretrievably lost when retaliation is severe, and when the impossibility of proving it precludes any sort of justice or corrective action. However, if we are all too paralyzed by fear of retaliation to act, we become complicit in condoning the very culture that harms us. It’s a tough balance to strike, especially in situations where individuals are stuck living, working, or visiting in one small prison community for a very long time. If retaliation does occur, it is difficult to determine if supervisors are taking it seriously. As previously stated, most staff disciplinary actions happen quietly, out of view from the aggrieved, and protections written into union collective bargaining agreements (PDF pg. 25) and prisoner grievance manuals (PDF pg. 12) ensure that most staff disciplinary records are kept sealed or are expunged after one year, if they are recorded at all.
- Risk of retaliation can sometimes be reduced (but also can sometimes be exacerbated) by some of the following methods—if nothing else, these methods at least leave a more public paper trail when documenting retaliation:
- CC’ing a supervisor or outside official (such as a legislator, union representative, attorney, or ombuds) in email communications with staff.
- Requesting that a staff person from WA DOC headquarters come to a local prison facility to meet with you and a local facility staff person to resolve an issue.
- Bringing in an outside conflict resolution expert.