Offenders Get Outfitted for Success
By Maria Peterson, Communications Consultant
Clothes donated to Washington Corrections
Center are sorted, searched and then used
for offenders who are releasing from prison.
As more offenders arrive at the men’s reception center in Shelton with fewer than nine months left in their prison sentence, Washington Corrections Center (WCC) has designated one of its units as a transition unit.
“We saw our releases go from approximately 20 a month for the entire prison to about 200 a month,” said Melissa Hanson, Classification Counselor.
DOC staff members begin preparing for an offender’s release six months in advance to assist with a safe transition back to the community. Offenders are not allowed to release wearing their state-issued khaki clothing, so if an offender doesn’t have appropriate clothes, the prison purchases a $45 “dress-out” which consists of a gray shirt and gray pants.
“They still stand out as inmates,” said Hanson. “Gray outfit, state-issued shoes and a brown paper bag with their DOC number on it. It raises their anxiety level to be marked as an inmate in public like that.”
The gray outfit is not appropriate job interview attire, either, Hanson added.
To avoid the prison’s increasing costs of purchasing clothes to help offenders transition, Correctional Program Manager Dan Fitzpatrick enlisted Hanson’s help to establish a Clothing Closet Committee to work on a proposal to have a donation clothing closet on site. Fitzpatrick managed a similar operation while he was CPM at McNeil Island Corrections Center, and knew that several others operate at prisons across the state. He thought the system would work well at WCC.
The prison accepts donated clothes in a secured box in the parking lot, much like second-hand stores do. Once in the facility, staff members volunteer to sort the clothes which are thoroughly searched, laundered and scanned before being put in the closet inventory.
During their last day in prison, offenders share their clothing size with the staff in the Receiving Unit at WCC and an appropriate outfit is selected for them. The goal is to provide them with at least one outfit that can be worn during job interviews.
Hanson said thanks to the dedicated volunteer staff and outside volunteers who have helped out in this process, there is now a better way to assist the offenders with their transition back to the community, as well as a cost savings measure that seems to be working. She said that staff members are now seeing that there is a benefit to the facility as well as to the offenders.
“As a 25-year corrections veteran I’ve seen the ups and downs of budget cuts and I want to see positions last and for people to stay employed and to be as happy as I am working in corrections,” she said. “I see the difference it makes in the offender. It makes a big difference when they see people care, and that they put the effort into it. I see the increase in staff morale also when they see that they are changing opportunities for the offenders.”
Washington Corrections Center accepts any clothing. Women’s clothing is sent to the two women’s prisons for use in their clothing closets. Men’s clothing that is unused or contains imagery that is inappropriate for issuing to offenders is donated back to Northwest Center Foundation, a Seattle-based organization that supports children and adults with developmental disabilities.