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Norway Trip Gives DOC Team Insight Into Amend Program

September 28, 2022

By Robert Johnson Department of Corrections
A group of people from Washington stand outside the entrance to Norway’s Bastøy Prison during a tour of the Norwegian Correctional Service

A delegation from Washington spent a week in Norway touring prisons to gain insight into the Amend program as work is being done to implement its policies in the Department of Corrections (DOC). Here they are in front of Bastøy Prison. Back row from left: DOC Training and Development Unit Administrator Jason Aldana, Governor’s Office Senior Policy Advisor Sonja Hallum, DOC Human Resources Director Todd Dowler, Director of Person-Centered Services Chris Poulos, Deputy Secretary Sean Murphy and state Rep. Roger Goodman. Front row from left: Governor’s Office Senior Policy Advisor Barbara Serrano, Coyote Ridge Superintendent Melissa Andrewjeski, Program Manager Courtney Grubb and state Sen. Claire Wilson. (Photo courtesy of Michele Casadei, Amend-University of California San Francisco)

The lives of Norway Prison staff were improved by providing humane treatment to the perpetrator of one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Norway.

That may seem counterintuitive or simplistic, but in the Norwegian Correctional Service, the treatment of incarcerated people has a profound and real effect on the total wellness of every person who works in a prison.

The Norwegian Correctional Service uses the principles and policies that are centered on improving the lives of staff through the humane treatment of incarcerated people. Amend, at the University of California, San Francisco, partnered with the Norwegian Correctional Service to bring these principles to U.S. prisons to improve the lives of all that work and live in the system here.

“The impact is profound, not only on the staff but their families, the incarcerated and the volunteers,” said Chris Poulos, Department of Corrections' (DOC) director of person-centered services. “It has a ripple effect on the community.”

Poulos was part of a contingent from the Washington State Department of Corrections that toured Norway’s prison system in June in partnership with the Amend project.

They returned home eager to make changes after seeing it in person.

“It was amazing,” Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Superintendent Melissa Andrewjeski said. “They definitely over the last 30 years have created a model that people should look at.”

DOC Amend Program Manager Courtney Grubb has been working to bring Amend policies to Washington since 2019. COVID, of course, slowed the progress, but the trip to Norway did a lot to increase support of the policies to make Washington’s corrections system more humane.

“I already know the program, but seeing the perspectives change was really helpful,” she said. “Pretty much everyone who went had their perspectives changed, and they had a light bulb moment. Being able to see it in person and bring it back to implement here was just what I needed.”

Andrewjeski, Grubb and Poulos were part of a Washington delegation that included DOC Deputy Secretary Sean Murphy, Human Resources Director Todd Dowler, Training and Development Unit Administrator Jason Aldana, Gov. Jay Inslee’s Senior Public Safety Policy Advisor and former Corrections Ombuds Sonja Hallum, state Sen. Claire Wilson, state Rep. Roger Goodman and Barbara Serrano, a senior policy advisor for the governor.

A cohort of leadership and line staff from Stafford Creek Corrections Center as well as a sergeant from Tri Cities Reentry Center traveled to Norway in April. Other staff and leaders from Washington will travel to Norway in the coming months for an introduction to the Amend principles and to focus on the contact officer model, women’s programming, and the resource team model for restrictive housing.

The Washington delegation was joined by other Amend partners from California, North Dakota and Oregon, that have partnered with Amend. The trip included tours of five prisons and opportunities to see the Norwegian Correctional Service’s approach to working with incarcerated people in restrictive housing units, recreation, meal policies and procedures.

The Norway Correctional Service has seen a drastic reduction in prison violence and recidivism since implementing the person-centered approach in 1998. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the rate of people returning to prison was above 60%, escapes and riots were not uncommon, and two prison officers were killed. Since the shift, corrections staff in Norway are happier, have more job satisfaction, healthier and have longer life expectancy. The Norwegian Correctional Service doesn’t have staffing shortages — instead it has a waiting list for applicants.

Amend has focused on bringing a few core Norwegian correctional principles and models to the U.S., among them dynamic security and normality. Dynamic security encourages professional relationships between staff and the incarcerated. If a staff member interacts closely and regularly with an incarcerated person, both learn to see each other as fellow humans.

“Treating people how you want to be treated may sound obvious, but our training on how to treat incarcerated people from day one has been one of distrust and suspicion that rooted the foundation of security,” Poulos said. “Dynamic security is based on building relationships and getting to know the incarcerated. The kind of ironic thing is that some folks will think that this jeopardizes security, but if it is done right, it will enhance security.”

The principle behind dynamic security is normality, which aims to make life in prison as similar to life outside so a person is prepared for life in the community after release and so staff enjoy a career in as normal and positive environment as possible. The goal is “to take the prison out of the person as much as possible before we take the person out of the prison.”

“The model focuses on staff wellness and improves their life,” Andrewjeski said. “It is extremely important, and the concepts are a better way for us to manage correctional environments. I care about staff and want to see improvements so they are healthy, safe and have a better future. This will only improve the interactions and communication between staff and the people we house which will make for a better environment inside our prisons and in our communities.”

Dynamic security and professional relationship building even applies to people who will not leave prison. Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people — including 69 children — in two domestic terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011, receives the same treatment as other people incarcerated in the Norwegian Correctional Service.

“They take precautions but still treat him with dignity and provide a humane space,” Poulos said.

As with any big initiative and culture shift, the changes won’t happen right away. Grubb said DOC has a seven-year plan to phase in aspects of Amend throughout prisons and reentry centers, and work is underway to secure funding for additional staffing to support this effort in the next fiscal year.

It will take time and money to make Washington’s version of Amend a reality, and DOC leadership is making it a priority.

“We are doing this because it is the right thing to do, and this is a better way to make staff and the incarcerated safer and happier,” Murphy said. “After seeing how Amend principles are put to use, I am convinced that this is the future for DOC.”