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The Washington Way

The Washington Way program is a partnership between the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and Amend at the University of California San Francisco to bring a health-focused approach to transforming correctional culture within Washington's prison facilities and reentry centers.


Leadership immersion trip with leaders from California, Oregon, and Washington at Halden Prison

Leadership immersion trip with leaders from California, Oregon, and Washington at Halden Prison. (Photo courtesy of Courtney Grubb, Statewide Program Manager) View Photo Gallery

The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) and Amend at the University of California San Francisco have partnered to bring a health-focused approach to transforming correctional culture inside Washington’s prisons and reentry centers with an emphasis on increasing staff wellness while working to better support and prepare incarcerated individuals and residents for their return to society. Amend’s primary program partner is the Norwegian Correctional Service, who practice the principle belief that “people go to court to be punished, they go to prison to become better neighbors.”

Amend also partners with California, North Dakota, and Oregon which has enabled DOC to create a multi-state network of correctional professionals working together to improve the culture in our facilities. Through this partnership and experience, staff have recognized that we are much different than Norway, but we can take these principles and models and make them our own. That is the journey we have embarked on, The Washington Way: Humanity in Corrections.

National research finds that United States prisons have negative physical and mental health impacts on incarcerated individuals, residents, and staff. DOC is committed to changing that statistic while providing a positive and healthy organizational culture inside the institutions and with our approach towards effectively guiding incarcerated individuals toward rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society. We are working to empower correctional staff to work more actively and directly with incarcerated individuals to make meaningful changes in their lives.

By encouraging new approaches to working with colleagues and incarcerated individuals and providing the tools they need to achieve public safety long term we will improve rapport between staff and incarcerated individuals, working toward the goal of changing criminal behavior.

The Washington Way draws on international best practices to improve the culture. The Department is committed to improving working and living conditions for all who live in, work in, and visit state prisons, as well as improving the working environment for all employees.

While Norway and Washington are very different, the core of their model is the same as ours: When we treat one another with respect, our environment will change for the better.

Data & Evaluation

Some of the national data on the negative impacts of the status quo correctional environment includes:

  • One in three correctional officers experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • One in 10 correctional officers have considered suicide.
  • Compared to the national average of age 75, the average life expectancy of a U.S. correctional officer is 59 years old.
  • There are also higher rates of substance use disorder in the field of corrections compared to national averages.
  • Incarcerated individuals in the U.S. experience more illness than those who are not incarcerated.

University of California – Irvine

Extending their longstanding partnership with DOC evaluating their restrictive housing reforms, University of California (UC), Irvine Professor Keramet Reiter and her research team are conducting an independent evaluation of the impact of Amend's work in Washington DOC. The UC Irvine team has collected baseline data from staff and residents about well-being and knowledge of Amend and Amend interventions, and they plan to collect follow-up data every 3-6 months on at least 3 specific Amend interventions at 3 prison sites, as well as analyze administrative data about restrictive housing use and well-being throughout the system.

The Washington Way Principles

Three Types of Security

Static security is the walls, doors, uniforms, and other physical elements that make a prison a prison.

Organizational security is the routines, shift plans, and everyday procedures that bring consistency and predictability to a facility.

Dynamic security is the frequent, effective, and respectful communication between correctional staff and prison residents that characterize the safest prisons. Staff who practice dynamic security know the incarcerated individuals they are responsible for and are invested in their success. Dynamic security is about finding better ways to motivate incarcerated individuals. It never means violating common sense professional boundaries.

Pie chart


Normalization means that life inside prison should resemble life outside of prison as much as possible. A more normal environment in daily life better prepares people for reentry and helps makes sure that the prison environment is not harmful to the people who work there. Under this principle, each incarcerated person serves their sentence at the lowest possible security level, and everyone works to make prison as healthy and supportive as it can be. Normalization can cover anything from improvements to the living and working environment to creating innovative programs in which incarcerated individuals can practice being a positive, responsible member of their community.


Progression means that every incarcerated individual knows what they need to do to be successful where they are – and has opportunities to earn trust (i.e. more privileges or lower security housing) alongside increasing responsibility (employment, education, programming, mentorship, or other duties connected to the success of the prison community) while they’re incarcerated. With progression, all staff have opportunities to work with motivated incarcerated individuals who want to make the most of their time inside.


The mission of DOC is to improve public safety by positively changing lives. In order to accomplish this, we need to do everything in our power to improve the health and wellness of our staff and the people in our custody and care. We need to proactively build healthy interactions among staff and between staff and incarcerated individuals. Amend provides a blueprint for us to move forward.

Wellness of Staff and the Population We Serve: Improving the working environment through staff training and facility enhancements in order to improve the health and well-being outcomes of people who live and work in state prisons, with a focus on reducing trauma and toxic stress.

Public Safety: Returning people as better neighbors and family members, set up to thrive, thereby reducing recidivism and increasing public safety.

Trauma-Informed Organization: Reducing incidents of use of force, staff assaults, overdoses, self-harm, homicides, suicides, grievances, self-isolation, mental health crisis bed admissions, and other identified outcomes.

Staff Training and Professional Development

  • Dynamic security, normalization, and progression training for all staff working in prisons and reentry centers
  • Occupational Health and Wellness Training
  • Trauma training
  • Training for all PREA Staff
  • Immersive International Job Shadowing

Normalize and Create Positive Environments

Create clean and safe environments that physically mirror the community to the extent possible and prepare incarcerated individuals for successful return to their communities. Some of the ways that prison staff may choose to normalize the environments include, but are not limited to:

  • Barbeques
  • Bicycles
  • Couches and furniture in living areas
  • Empowering and supporting people to affect change
  • Fitness equipment and classes
  • Frequent interactions between staff and incarcerated individuals (i.e., playing games, music, sports, eating, volleyball, pickleball, ping pong, corn hole, etc.)
  • Landscaping: grass, trees, flowers, water features, gardens, park-like settings
  • Murals and new paint

Process Improvements and Policy Changes

DOC will research and consider process improvements, policy changes, and clarifications to remove barriers for culture change.

What Are Contact Officers and Resource Teams?

Contact Officers

Contact officers are mentors and coaches that encourage pro-social behaviors, provide advice and direction, and support residents to change their lives for the better through their continuum of reentry. Contact Officer Teams help change DOC culture from an enforcement mentality to a coaching/mentoring mentality.

A Contact Officer is a correctional officer or staff person who is assigned to a small number of incarcerated individuals to support their success and prevent problems before they arise. The Contact Officer might connect incarcerated individuals to resources and opportunities, support them as a coach, mentor, and role model, or create events or small projects that make their housing unit a better place to work and live. The Contact Officer has more tools to hold incarcerated individuals’ accountable because they are empowered to make important decisions in their unit and can create meaningful opportunities for the population they’re working with. The Contact Officer model is flexible and adaptable; the specific role of a Contact Officer should differ from unit to unit and prison to prison based on participating staff’s strengths, opportunities, and goals.

Resource and Mobile Activity Teams

The Resource/Activity Team approach empowers uniformed staff to work safely and effectively with the highest-risk, highest-need incarcerated individuals to dramatically increase time-out-of-cell and ultimately support them to live safely and successfully without isolation. A Resource Team is based in a restrictive housing unit; an Activity Team is mobile, working throughout the prison, and focuses on people who are self-isolating and other high-risk individuals who need extra support to stay on track and out of restrictive housing. Resource / Activity Team members receive extensive additional training and dedicated project time to work effectively with the most complex individual needs. The goals of a Resource/Activity Team are to maximize time out-of-cell engaged in social activity, programming, treatment, and to support each incarcerated individual to live at the lowest level of security possible and, in doing so, improve the safety and wellbeing of staff.

Accomplishments to Date

Immersive International Training

Amend (UCSF) philanthropically funds international immersion programming that provides our staff the opportunity to job shadow and work alongside staff in the Norwegian Correctional Service at their home facilities in Norway.

Prison Rape Elimination Act Task Force

In collaboration with Amend, PREA Compliance specialists started a task force to clarify and identify in policy what a PREA violation is and what is not. The task force is here to support staff and establish changes to policy to reflect dynamic security interactions between staff and incarcerated individuals.

Annual In-Service training

Working with the DOC Training and Development Unit (TDU), a new training curriculum offered to all staff has been developed. This training will begin in Fiscal Year 24 and will cover the occupational health crisis in Washington State as well as Prison Safety/Dynamic Security. As our department comes out of the Pandemic and moves back to in-person learning environments, these will be taught in a classroom setting with instructors on site.

The occupational health and wellness course will provide a feedback loop to the Washington Way team on improving the working and living environments in our facilities.

Intro to Amend Trainings

Approximately 850 staff throughout the state have attended Intro to Amend trainings. During these trainings staff are learning about the key principles of the Washington Way. Dynamic Security, Normalization, and Progression with an emphasis on staff wellness and improving the community for all.

Cell to Cell Virtual Exchange

This collaboration was brought forward by staff and incarcerated at Stafford Creek Corrections Center and is being piloted at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Cell to Cell is a virtual exchange program that brings incarcerated individuals and staff members from Norway and the United States together over video chat. This offers staff and incarcerated individuals a space to share life experiences, offer support, learn about each other’s cultures, and discuss what it’s like being incarcerated in their countries. This opportunity is the first of its kind to be done on a worldwide scale.

Staff Wellness Initiatives

Ideas generated by staff to improve the working and living environment and supported by the Amend program. Examples – Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) Staff sleeping quarters due to overtime and weather, cultural presentations, improved break rooms.

Pilot Facility Accomplishments

Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women

  • Trained approximately 100 staff on Introduction to Amend
  • Developing a Contact Officer Model
  • Normalizing the environment as opportunities arise

Reentry Centers Across the Agency

  • Trained approximately 75 staff on Introduction to Amend
  • Working on action plans to normalize the environment and interactions between staff and residents

Stafford Creek Corrections Center

  • Trained approximately 250 staff on Introduction to Amend
  • Developed a Resource Team in Restrictive Housing
  • Started a Resident Advisory Council
  • Provided international job shadowing for officers from the U.K.
  • Developing a Contact Officer Model
  • Piloting Cell to Cell Virtual Exchange Program for staff and residents
  • Normalizing the environment as opportunities arise
  • Planned long-term partnership aimed at establishing Stafford Creek as a center of learning and innovative practice

Washington Corrections Center for Women

  • Trained approximately 220 staff on Introduction to Amend
  • Established a Change Agent’s Group to move culture change forward
  • Developing Contact Officer Model
  • Partnering with Amend for training and normalization opportunities for a planned Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Unit
  • Planning for first Activity Team in the U.S.
  • Establishing Staff Ideas Committee to empower staff
  • Normalizing the environment as opportunities arise

Washington State Penitentiary

  • Trained and launched a Resource Team


For more information on The Washington Way program, see the resources below:


Resource Links