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Amend: Changing Correctional Culture

March 30, 2022

By DOC’s Strategy and Innovation Team Department of Corrections

Amend: The Change is Happening (video courtesy of Amend)

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and Amend at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) launched a partnership in October 2020 to continue efforts in achieving further pro-social improvements in the Washington correctional system.

An important part of achieving DOC’s mission to improve public safety by positively changing lives is the commitment to partnering with other organizations to actively find ways to live out the mission. Amend at UCSF is an initiative dedicated to transforming correctional culture to improve the health of people working and living in America’s prisons.

DOC’s partnership with Amend works to bring a health-focused approach to providing correctional staff with additional tools and resources with an emphasis on staff wellness while working to prepare incarcerated individuals and residents to become better neighbors when they return to society. In Norway the belief system is, “people go to court to be punished, they go to prison to become better neighbors”. This partnership’s goal is to ingrain that same belief system within Washington DOC.

In coordination with Norwegian Correctional Services, Amend at UCSF has developed its program as a means of implementing the public health focused Norwegian principles of normalization, progression and dynamic security in correctional systems across the United States. Amend trainers meet with key stakeholders, identify challenges and opportunities, and facilitate structural changes specifically tailored to the needs of the particular environment.

“At Amend, we recognize that US prisons have had a devastating impact on the physical and mental health of residents and staff alike,” said Dr. Brie Williams, Founding Director of Amend. “This initiative seeks to improve public health by supporting policy and correctional leaders to rethink the purpose of prison, to help correctional staff demand more from themselves and their profession, and to guide staff in helping people who are incarcerated reconstruct their lives for the better.”

This partnership represents an initial step in a joint effort to augment Washington’s ongoing innovation and correctional leadership. Amend brings training and technical assistance to the Department to support the growth of healthier environments for staff in their day-to-day work and for individuals as they prepare to return to their loved ones and reenter society.

The partnership began with a preliminary training program introducing public health-oriented correctional principles focused on staff wellness, normalization, dynamic security, and progression. The partnership has since expanded to the development of pilot projects and action plans at prisons and reentry centers across the state. The pilot projects and action plans will be created by staff doing the work and will be both individualized and unit specific.

The concept of normalization is that punishment is the deprivation of liberty, no one should serve a sentence under stricter circumstances than necessary and life inside prison shall resemble outside life as much as possible to include clothing, food, and family visits when possible.

Dynamic Security is best achieved through staff actively and frequently observing, interacting, and engaging with the incarcerated to gain a better understanding and awareness and to constantly assess the risks and needs that still need to be met.

Progression is the belief that people should move through incarceration along a progressive path towards increasing freedom alongside increasing responsibility. The goal is to transition people from high security to transitional housing with the hopes that no one releases directly from maximum security to the community.

The initial areas the partnership with Amend will focus on are:

Key goals of the partnership are:

  • Reduction of use of force (reactive and planned)
  • Reduction of staff assaults and reduced violence among residents
  • Reduction in use of sick leave
  • Reduction in use of solitary confinement
  • Self-reported improved health, well-being and job satisfaction among staff
  • Self-reported improved readiness for return to the community among residents
  • Anecdotal evidence of improved wellbeing among staff’s families.

What are DOC staff saying in response to Amend’s initial virtual training?

“I have worked in corrections for over 25 years. Since day one, it has been an us against them mentality. Getting staff to understand times have changed and our tactics and training does not seem to be working. But this course shows that building relationships (currently taboo) with residents may actually increase the effectives of security. I hope everyone will be able to see this.” – Lieutenant, Men’s Facility

“This is a great opportunity to learn and create a better foundation for the work we continue to do. Our statistics on recidivism are dismal and what we’ve done up to this point is not accomplishing what we want, which is to positively impact lives. Time for new ideas and energy!” – Supervisor, Reentry Center

“This training shows how important it is to have more positive interactions with staff and the incarcerated and how to redirect the conversations to be more solution oriented.” – Officer, Women’s Facility

“I’m excited about this due to changing lives has always been a big part of why I got into this career.” – Sergeant, Reentry Center

The Amend team will be conducting site assessments beginning in April at Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women, Olympic Corrections Center, Stafford Creek Corrections Center, and Washington Corrections Center for Women. We welcome your feedback.