Frequently Asked Questions
- What is an Ombuds?
- When should I contact the Ombuds?
- How can I resolve a concern/complaint on my own?
- Why was my concern/complaint declined?
- How can I contact the DOC Ombuds?
- If I'm incarcerated, am I required to file a complaint with the Ombuds before filing a lawsuit?
- What can the Ombuds do for me?
- Is my information confidential?
- When and how will the Ombuds respond to my complaint?
- Will the Ombudsman advocate on my behalf?
What is an Ombuds?
The Ombuds is a person who independently and impartially investigates concerns/complaints submitted by concerned citizens, individuals under Department jurisdiction, and their families pertaining to:
- Non-compliance of Department policies, Washington Administrative Code (WAC), and state or federal laws that have not been satisfactorily addressed through lower-level processes or appeals, and
- The endangered health or safety of an individual under the jurisdiction of the Department or a visitor to a Department facility.
The word 'ombudsman' is Swedish in origin, and was first used to designate a public official who was appointed to look into citizen's complaints against government agencies. At the DOC, the Ombuds is housed within the Office of the Secretary and reports to the Director of Executive Policy.
When should I contact the Ombuds?
If after attempting to resolve the concern/complaint at the lowest level possible (e.g., contact appropriate employees, grievance/appeal process), you may submit a review request to the Ombuds.
Incarcerated individuals under imminent danger of serious physical injury or harm who believe the Department has not properly considered their emergency grievance should submit their concern/complaint to the Ombuds at the same time as an emergency grievance appeal is submitted per DOC Policy 550.100 Offender Grievance Program.
How can I resolve a concern/complaint on my own?
Individuals must attempt to resolve complaints at the lowest level possible (e.g., contact appropriate employees, grievance/appeal process) before submitting a concern/complaint to the Ombuds.
Please refer to the advice below from the Office of British Columbia Ombudsperson .
You have the right to ask the public authority to hear your concerns about actions and decisions that affect you. Here are some suggestions:
- Have the information you will need available. Consider writing your questions down beforehand.
- Keep notes and save all your correspondence. Write down the names, position titles, and phone numbers of the people you are dealing with.
- Ask for a supervisor if you are not getting the information you need.
- If you are still dissatisfied, ask if there is an appeal or complaint resolution procedure available.
- Be persistent, but remain calm and polite.
Why was my concern/complaint declined?
Per DOC Policy 140.500 Ombuds, the Ombuds will decline concerns/complaints or terminate an investigation if the matter:
- Or a substantially similar matter is under or comes under litigation.
- Concerns decisions or recommendations issued by the Indeterminate Sentencing Review Board.
The Ombuds may also decline to investigate a concern/complaint when:
- Adequate information is not provided.
- The matter, or one substantially similar, from the same individual has been previously addressed.
- It is not provided in a timely manner, making it difficult or impossible to investigate.
- It has been determined that no violation of a specific statute, Washington Administrative Code (WAC), or policy has occurred.
- The Ombuds has no jurisdiction to address the matter.
- The individual did not attempt to resolve the matter at an available lower level before contacting the Ombuds.
How can I contact the DOC Ombuds?
If you have questions, you may Ask the Ombuds by phone or email.
See the How to Submit a Concern/Complaint section for specific instructions about how to submit a concern/complaint to the Ombuds. Please note the Ombuds cannot accept complaints over the phone.
If I'm incarcerated, am I required to file a complaint with the Ombuds before filing a lawsuit?
No. the Ombuds does not represent an additional level of the exhaustion process, and you can access the courts without writing to the Ombuds.
What can the Ombuds do for me?
The Department will facilitate the Ombuds working independently to address/investigate complaints in an impartial, non-biased, and fair manner. Employees, contract staff, and volunteers will cooperate fully with requests from the Ombuds in a timely manner to include providing documentation, access to resources, and participating in interviews.
When a concern/complaint is substantiated, the Ombuds may issue a written recommendation, including action that can be initiated to resolve the matter, to the Secretary/designee. See DOC Policy 140.500 Ombuds for information about what happens to an Ombuds recommendation.
Is my information confidential?
The Ombuds will take reasonable steps to maintain confidentiality and will not voluntarily disclose personal or identifying information unless 1) it is necessary for an investigation or resolution of a concern/complaint, 2) It is necessary to address an imminent risk of serious harm to an individual or security of a facility, 3) Criminal acts are uncovered during an investigation, or 4) When disclosure is mandated by law per DOC Policy 280.510 Public Disclosure of Records.
When and how will the Ombuds respond to my complaint?
Upon receipt of a concern/complaint, the Ombuds will assign a case number and notify the sender in writing within 5 business days that it was received. They will also:
- Notify the sender when more time is required to address the concern/complaint or if the matter is not valid including the reason(s) and alternative resources, if applicable.
- Review concerns/complaints to determine if an investigation needs to be opened.
- When possible, attempt to address and resolve concerns/complaints informally and in a timely manner. Unless an investigation or recommendation requires more time, matters should be addressed and resolved within 90 days.
See DOC Policy 140.500 Ombuds for more information.
Will the Ombudsman advocate on my behalf?
The Ombuds is not an advocate for the person filing the complaint or for Department of Corrections. The Ombuds is an impartial evaluator.