Program Brings Corrections Strategies from Norway to WA State

By Danielle Jimenez

WASHINGTON STATE—Washington State corrections staff are already seeing positive benefits in their lives at work and at home since joining a new program known as Amend.

“I was looking for another job, I was done being in corrections,” said Eric Garcia, a corrections officer at Stafford Creek Corrections Center’s Intensive Management Unit where some of the most violent incarcerated individuals are often housed. “Being a part of the resource team, joining Amend changed that, and saved my career really.”

Amend is a human rights-focused program designed to take the best parts of the correctional system in Norway and bring them to prisons across the U.S. to change correction culture to help staff and incarcerated individuals.

“Stress is a silent killer, it really takes a heavy toll,” said Sean Murphy, Deputy Director of the Department of Corrections (DOC). “One in three correctional officers experience symptoms of PTSD, one in ten have contemplated suicide. We have high rates of drug abuse or substance use. We experience death at about 15 years younger than the general public does and those are Frightening statistics.”

Taking those statistics to heart and seeing a need for a positive change, in 2020 Washington State DOC partnered with Amend at the University of California San Francisco, and pilot programs are currently in full swing at several facilities in Washington. Staff have taken trips to Norway as well as other states — such as Oregon and California — who are also working with Amend.

Amend is a staff-built program designed to fit the needs at each facility and empowers staff to come up with new ideas and contribute to better the lives of those in their care and custody. For example, a Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) staff member recently submitted an idea for an Amend event that brought staff together to sing Christmas carols for incarcerated individuals (YouTube video).

Helping incarcerated individuals helps staff by creating more meaning in their work as well as creating a safer environment in prisons by focusing more on communication between staff and incarcerated individuals.

“Because when you are working in that environment, you feel better about yourself, you are helping others instead of it feels like you are just controlling others and punishing others“, said Todd Dowler, DOC Director of Human Resources.

Garcia is just one of many staff who went to Norway and had their perspective on their jobs and the way they could work with incarcerated individuals flipped upside down. Reentry starts on day one,” said Kabrina Riley, corrections sergeant at WCCW. “People go to court to be punished, they come to prison to become better neighbors. I think that’s very powerful because it means that our job has a purpose. We’re not there just to shut people behind doors and serve them food. We’re there to have a positive effect on how they’re going to come back into the community.”

Amend is only getting started in Washington with plans for expansion in the future to more facilities, starting more resource teams and creating new programs.

Danielle Jimenez serves as the Communications Consultant for the Washington State DOC.