Maggie Miller-Stout Retires After 40-years, Says Agency Doing "Hell of a Fine Job"
May 12, 2015
Superintendent Maggie Miller-Stout
AIRWAY HEIGHTS – Maggie Miller-Stout still remembers the reception she got as one of the few female employees at Cedar Creek in the late 1970s, back when it was a juvenile facility.
"I had guy, who later turned out to be one of my best friends, say 'I'll learn your name if you stick around for six months, but until then it's not worth my time,' she said. "It was like, 'We don't want you. You don't belong here.' "
Miller-Stout lasted a lot longer than six months. Nearly 40 years after beginning her career as a counselor for juvenile inmates, she ended it as superintendent of the Airway Heights Corrections Center. She retired from the Department of Corrections at the end of April.
Earl Wright, a deputy director of prisons for DOC, said Miller-Stout made it easier for other women to follow her path in what used to be a male-dominated profession.
"Maggie was a strong person in the business and proved herself," said Wright, who has known her since 1978. "She was presented with opportunity and challenge, and excelled at it."
Miller-Stout started as a counselor straight out of college at Lakeland Village, which was run by the state Department of Social and Health Services. She took a job at Cedar Creek in 1978, also a juvenile facility at the time, and then moved into adult corrections, holding a series of executive positions before becoming superintendent at Airway Heights.
She saw a lot of changes during her career.
"Forty years ago, superintendents were god-like and had entire authority over their facilities. There was no continuity, or direct connection" that DOC employees felt they had with headquarters, she said.
DOC today operates as a department, she said, and is more consistent in terms of how prisons are run, and helping inmates change behavior to prepare for reentry into society.
The department does a much better job today getting inmates ready for release, she said, noting that Correctional Industries has courses to help inmates understand the softer skills of communication and timeliness.
"Some of the things that people with a good work ethic take as common sense aren't so apparent for inmates," she said. "In the past we put (inmates) in a job and if they didn't function, we'd kick them out and hire somebody else. In today's world, we do a much better job of completing the loop and telling them this is why this is important, and not that we just want you to put widgets in a box." Wright believes Miller-Stout helped change DOC's philosophy.
"There's always been this pull and tug around whether … we should be in the treatment business or accountability business," he said. "Maggie was seen as a person who had that sort of balance, of being able to hold people accountable but also (having) a social worker bent and wanting to help inmates curb or prevent their behaviors."
Wright said DOC has "evolved more to a balanced position. I'm sure Maggie played a role in fostering that because of her belief that's how we should be doing business."
Miller-Stout said she turned corrections into a life-long career because it provided the opportunity to influence people to change "and no matter whether its staff or inmates, everybody is capable of change," she said. "I've seen inmates change, I've had troubled employees get better and excel. Helping people reach the best they can be is pretty rewarding."
She encourages others to consider corrections as a career.
"I think it's a great career choice. That's the thing about the DOC. You've got prisons, you've got industries, community corrections, medical. There are so many different career paths you can take," she said, adding "it's just a fascinating business. It's nothing I intended when I was growing up on a farm in Klickitat county."
There also are a lot of misconceptions about DOC, she said.
"Everybody thinks we're goons. You look at the old convict movies and there continues to be a thought process that our whole goal is punish the inmates while they are in prison and that we are inhumane and don't look for opportunities to change their behavior," she said.
"The fact is we do a good job of providing job skills and education and keeping those guys healthy and challenging their thinking errors, and giving them opportunities and skills to make better decisions and be better citizens. I think we do a hell of a fine job."
There will always be some inmates who leave prison and commit new crimes. "It is human nature. We can't change everybody," she said. "But if we can get even a small percentage of these guys to behave better each year, then we're reducing the number of victims in the community."