RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Money set aside in the state budget to increase oversight of Virginia’s prisons appears safe from a veto.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) plans to sign the 2023 state budget bill Thursday, his office announced, indicating that he has not proposed any changes for lawmakers to consider.

One provision in the budget allocates $250,000 to create an Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman within the state inspector general’s office. Language in the budget also establishes a Corrections Oversight Committee to advise the state prison ombudsman’s office.

The ombudsman’s office would monitor state prison conditions, provide info to incarcerated people and their families, check whether facilities follow the proper rules and make recommendations to support the wellbeing of prisoners and employees.

Prison reform advocates and groups have continued to push for more oversight of the state’s corrections department, which has faced scrutiny amid reports of staffing issues, overdoses, deaths and other issues.

This includes when an 8-year-old girl was strip-searched in 2019 when trying to visit her father at Buckingham Correctional Center and the 2022 death of an intellectually disabled man incarcerated in Virginia, which The Associated Press reports has led to an FBI investigation.

“Neither the public, the media, nor even elected officials really know what goes on behind prison walls,” ACLU of Virginia Policy and Advocacy Strategist Shawn Weneta said in a statement before lawmakers approved the budget. “That’s why lawmakers’ first step towards creating meaningful oversight of VADOC is so significant.”

Before the governor’s office announced the budget signing, state Sen. Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) said he would question what Youngkin was “trying to hide” if he tried to scrap the language from the bill.

“It would look troubling if the governor were to veto the proposal. Like, what are you trying to hide,” he told 8News in a Sept. 7 phone interview, while also noting the recent change at the top of the Virginia Department of Corrections.

Judge Chadwick Dotson, who Youngkin appointed as chairman of the Virginia Parole Board, took over as the corrections department’s director on Sept. 8 after the agency said Harold W. Clarke retired.

Sen. Marsden proposed a bill for a state prison ombudsman earlier this year that passed out the Virginia Senate unanimously but was ultimately killed by a Republican-led Virginia House Committee on a party-line vote.

Marsden applauded the move to set aside money for the ombudsman office, telling 8News that while state prisons must go through certain inspections, “none deal with quality of life.”

A spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Youngkin spokeswoman did not respond to a text message Tuesday seeking comment on the funding for the ombudsman’s office.

On Thursday, VADOC Director Chadwick Dotson issued the following statement:

The Virginia Department of Corrections welcomes the opportunity to work with the newly formed Office of the Department of Corrections Ombudsman. The VADOC is committed to being a first-class agency and to its mission of helping people to be better by safely providing effective incarceration, supervision, and evidence-based re-entry services to inmates and supervisees. Our department will continue to create long-term public safety for the Commonwealth of Virginia and its citizens.  

The budget signing on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol is set to come less than a week after Virginia lawmakers met for a one-day special session to approve the bill that negotiations agreed to after months of talks.

If Youngkin proposed amendments or vetoes to the budget bill, state lawmakers would have had to meet again to vote on them.