Skip to main content

Preparing for a New Year

January 13, 2021

By Rachel Ericson

DOC Communications

sun shining through trees

(Photo courtesy of jplenio on Pixabay.)

Each year provides a new opportunity for growth and learning. As we wave goodbye to 2020 in our rear view mirror, we look towards the future for what comes next. Recently, we shared an update on our accomplishments and highlights achieved in 2020.

Some of these highlights included improvements to the department’s Resolution Program (previously known as the Offender Grievance Program). Through work with the Office of Corrections Ombuds, formerly incarcerated individuals and their families, the Attorney General’s Office, Disability Rights Washington and other advocates, DOC updated its Resolution Program policy to streamline the grievance process.

In March, the department activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and established its Prisons and Health Services Unified Command Center to support the statewide response to COVID-19, to minimize spread of the disease and to help keep all Corrections facilities safe. The agency’s EOC continues to operate and provide unified messaging to staff across the agency. To view the latest data, information and resources on the department’s response to COVID-19, please visit the DOC’s COVID-19 response page.

Next, the department looks to continue work on its’ strategic plan (pdf) with goals that include:

  • Decreasing the first-year rate of return to institutions by at least two percent
  • Establishing continuity of care plans for 40% of people releasing from prison who has histories of substance abuse disorder, mental health issues or chronic care conditions
  • Decreasing the rate of violence within facilities from 0.93 to 0.90 per 100 incarcerated individuals.

Setting goals for the next year isn’t just for agencies or departments. Traditionally people set resolutions or goals for the New Year, often times focusing on personal improvements and looking forward to specific achievements.

“While many of the challenges faced by the state in 2020, will continue in 2021, the Department is grateful to staff, incarcerated individuals and families for their continued patience, compassion and understanding as we all work together to face these unprecedented times,” said Julie Martin, Department of Corrections’ Deputy Secretary.

Looking to the future and the goals we are working to achieve is one way people can help their mental health, says Dr. Phil Gibson, Chief Staff Psychologist for the Department of Corrections.

2020 introduced an entirely new set of challenges for people across the world. With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way people were used to living their lives, unique challenges sprang up that previously no one had experienced.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) recognizes that COVID-19 has resulted in an “unprecedented crisis that affects not only our physical health and daily lives, but also our mental health.”

NAMI has created a COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide to address the mental health needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and to “provide credible information and resources to help people navigate through this crisis.”

The Department of Corrections takes the health and safety of its staff and incarcerated individuals very seriously. Providing mental health options to staff and those in the department’s custody are some of the ways, the department addresses these needs.

Department of Corrections policy, DOC 630.500 Mental Health Services (pdf), demonstrates the ways that the department cares for the mental health of those in its custody. Additional steps have been taken to provide support for the emotional well-being of incarcerated individuals during various levels of medical quarantine/isolation to include regular mental health checks and opportunities for appropriate socialization and activities when possible.

Staff members also have access to mental health support. Staff psychologists are available to provide resources (pdf) and techniques provided to ensure staff have the tools they need to provide a safe, holistic environment to continue the department’s mission to improve public safety by positively changing lives.

Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) teams in seven regions across the state provide individuals involved in a critical incident a chance to discuss issues in a confidential setting, understand common reactions to stress and learn effective stress management techniques.

“Looking to the future is what helps us get up again,” Gibson said. “No matter how many times you fall down, you can find purpose in the future. That purpose can help you get back up again, no matter how many times you fall.”

Gibson linked this perspective, with a recent experience he encountered while learning how to cross-country ski. His wife, an avid skier, has always envisioned a family who skis together. Gibson, who fell in the snow one too many times, wasn’t sure he agreed.

And what are experiences like this, if not life lessons? Gibson continued to get up, thinking of the future he, too, hopes to have.

Perseverance is important, and the best way to achieve perseverance, is to get up, and keep trying.

“You’ll never get to the beautiful part of life, if you don’t get back up,” Gibson said. “It’s easy to stay in a place that is reactive, but recognizing room for improvement and coming back to a place where you can do things differently and move forward from that, is important.”