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PRESS RELEASE: Washington Corrections Secretary and Vera Institute to study prison reforms in Norway

Released October 28, 2019

Contact Janelle Guthrie, (360) 764-9791

DOC Communications

interior photo of prison in norway

Interior of Halden Prison, Norway (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

TUMWATER – The Washington State Department of Corrections unveiled a new mission statement last week: To improve public safety by positively changing lives. This renewed emphasis on positively changing lives aligns with the agency’s work with the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) and its Safe Prisons, Safe Communities: From Isolation to Dignity and Wellness Behind Bars Initiative.

As part of this work, Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair and other state correctional leaders will be joining representatives of Vera, the Louisiana Department of Corrections and other organizations to learn firsthand about principles of corrections in Norway.

“Norway is heralded as a leader in rehabilitation, resocialization, and reentry,” Sinclair said. “Washington truly wants to live our mission of improving public safety by positively changing lives. We look forward to learning from their model to build on successes we are already experiencing in reentry and resocialization.”

Earlier this year, Vera announced it had selected Washington and Louisiana to lead the way in its Safe Prisons, Safe Communities initiative. Vera chose the two states in a competitive process due to their commitment to transparent and effective correctional reforms.

In a previous partnership with Vera, resulting in a number of reforms since 2011, Washington Corrections has:

  • Started group classrooms for programming within the restrictive housing population;
  • Eliminated the use of disciplinary sanctions on people who commit acts of self-harm;
  • Partnered with Disability Rights Washington to hire an external consultant to review practices; and
  • Started a transition pod to safely transition individuals from segregation into general population.

The 2019 partnership will assist Washington Corrections in designing and implementing other innovative reforms that build on its past efforts to achieve additional, significant progress in safely reducing the use of restrictive housing, working towards becoming a national model in restrictive housing reform.

“Since 2011, our agency has cut in half the number of individuals assigned to maximum custody,” Sinclair said. “We know there is more we can do. We look forward to learning from Norway and working with Vera and other stakeholders to achieve these reforms and continue our work to positively change lives.”

In addition to studying how Norwegian prisons operate generally, this trip will include a special focus on the use of solitary confinement. Trip participants will have the opportunity to learn how Norwegian facilities manage incarcerated populations, respond to behavior, and address other challenges without the widespread or extensive use of solitary confinement as it exists in the United States.

This is one of several trips abroad organized by Vera to help correctional leaders and other decision-makers stimulate ambitious prison reforms here in the U.S. by learning about, and seeing firsthand, the dramatically different approach to incarceration in Norway and other countries.

The trip runs from October 29, 2019 through November 2, 2019.