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Research Team Tours Washington Prisons to Learn Best Practices

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

By Robert Johnson Department of Corrections
A group of people from New York University, the Illinois Department of Corrections and the Washington Department of Corrections stand outside the Washington Corrections Center for Women after the group toured the facility.

Members of the Illinois Department of Corrections and a research team from New York University toured Washington Department of Corrections facilities to see how education and Correctional Industries programs operate in the state. (Photo courtesy of DOC Staff)

The success of the Washington State Department of Corrections’ (DOC) Correctional Industries (CI) and corrections education has drawn the attention of researchers and the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC).

The contingent of six members of the Illinois DOC and three researchers from New York University (NYU) visited four Washington prisons to see how Correctional Industries and education operates. The tour showed off the furniture manufacturing plant at Stafford Creek Correctional Facility, the textile work done at Washington Corrections Center for Women, and much more.

NYU was awarded a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to research how vocational and education programs can be improved in the Illinois DOC. The goal of the visit to Washington was to find out what is being done here and conduct other research to improve vocational programming in Illinois.

“We wanted to see what Washington DOC does and what can be implemented in Illinois,” said NYU Research Scholar Janelle Prueter.

DOC offers a variety of vocational and educational programs to incarcerated people. At Stafford Creek, the visiting group was very interested in learning about programs that help people earn a high school diploma, GED or associate’s degree from Grays Harbor College in either human services or business management. Dwayne Owens, the vocational coordinator for Illinois DOC, was so interested in the prison’s education offerings that he stayed back to learn more from Dean of Education Jamie Peterson while the touring group visited other programs.

Stafford Creek also has a big recycling facility, several programs to teach trades and charitable endeavors like training service dogs, building wheelchairs and restoring bicycles to be donated to those in need. But the main attraction of the tour at SCCC was the Correctional Industries furniture factory.

The 100,000-square-foot facility features 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 20,000 square feet for the laundry facility and business office. Pre-COVID, the factory employed up to 200 incarcerated people, but has been operating at about 75 workers due to the pandemic.

James Aliff, the general manager of the furniture factory, worked in the private sector for 17 years and called the CI facility at Stafford Creek top rate.

“This is right up there with the top facilities in the state in terms of technology and production,” he said.

The touring group also learned about a variety of programs when they visited WCCW. Like SCCC, the prison features dog programs that include service dog training, grooming and boarding through the nonprofit Prison Pet Partnership.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the women to put their skills to use,” Program Manager Peggy Quinlivan said.

The textile operation does embroidery and screen printing for state agencies as well as other sewing and related skills, including graphics, clerking and software training.

“The women are cross trained to get maximum experience with different aspects of textiles,” Pandora Neiland, the program supervisor said. “It’s more than basic sewing and embroidery. It’s a really great experience.”

Women apply for the program and interview for positions and quickly learn to work as a team.

“Some of the individuals didn’t start with any skills at all,” Program Manager Glenn Davis said. “After they get involved, they take ownership and want to work together. “We are teaching them skills to get a job and provide cognitive coaching to help them keep the job.”

The braille translation program also drew a great deal of attention during the tour. The work entails translating menus, graphics, charts, maps and much more. Workers can earn certification in 15 levels of braille translation, and about 20% of the women who go through the program end up working in the field after release.

Trades-Related Apprenticeship Coaching (TRAC) has been one of the more successful vocational programs at WCCW. The curriculum focuses on preparing women to work in construction fields and partners with four labor unions to help graduates get work. The program has had 250 graduates through the 62 cohorts and has an offshoot that trains participants in aerospace manufacturing.

Reentry Division Assistant Secretary Danielle Armbruster accompanied the group for some of the stops on the tour and was excited to gain knowledge about how the Illinois DOC works.

“I think there’s always small things we can learn, best-practices wise,” she said. “The legislature supports us, the community supports us, we’re lucky to have the resources and volunteers. A lot of other states’ department of corrections don’t have a lot of the resources we do.”