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OCO Complaint Process

OCO asks a series of questions to determine how to proceed with a case:

OCO Staff Questions Outcome
Intake/Early Resolution

1. Is the complaint about a negative impact on a person incarcerated in the Washington DOC?

2. Is the complaint about an action or inaction of the Washington DOC?

3. Has the complainant filed a grievance and/or appeal (unless emergency/life-or-death situation)? In general, OCO asks that complainants grieve the matter to Level II (Superintendent's response) prior to OCO taking the case.

If the answer is no to any question, the case is closed for lack of jurisdiction. Otherwise, we proceed to the next step.
Intake/Early Resolution

1. Was the action or inaction within DOC policy?

2. Has the issue been resolved?

3. Can OCO substantiate and/or impact change?

If DOC action is within policy, the issue has been resolved, or OCO cannot substantiate and/or impact change, the case will be closed without an investigation.

If OCO believes that there is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed (e.g., DOC policy was followed, but the policy was unjust), OCO can still open a systemic investigation.

If the action is not within policy and OCO can both substantiate and impact change, Early Resolution Ombuds work to mediate the situation with DOC staff and get a resolution. If DOC will still not resolve it, the case is elevated to an Assistant Ombuds.

Assistant Ombuds

Considerations for opening an investigation:

1. Are there additional avenues to pursue that could successfully resolve the case without an investigation?

2. Is this a systemic issue impacting a number of individuals such that a public report with recommendations is necessary?

3. Is this a critical issue of such a serious nature that a public report with recommendations should be issued that falls in line with OCO priorities (health, safety, rights of marginalized populations)?


OCO Assistant Ombuds will work to elevate any cases where DOC policy was not followed and ensure it is resolved. They will also track issues to evaluate for potential systemic investigations.

The vast majority of cases are handled through a fact-finding/mediation process rather than an investigation. As delineated above, due to limited resources, investigations are reserved for systemic and/or critical issues that require a public report with recommendations.

In addition to official investigations, OCO staff also work on systemic reviews that often involve cases that were successfully closed without an investigation. Topics for systemic reviews are often based on issues that OCO staff identify as trends and/or they are selected with the participation and advice of community stakeholders. In August 2019, OCO held a strategic planning meeting with community stakeholders who identified five top priorities for OCO in 2020: (1) mattresses; (2) mental health; (3) disciplinary hearings/sanctions; (4) property; and (5) educational access.

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