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Statewide Tour Gives Staff Opportunity to Provide Feedback to Reentry Leadership

October 5, 2022

By Robert Johnson

Department of Corrections

Members of the Eleanor Chase Reentry Center in Spokane speak to Reentry Division leadership during a listening session in late August 2022

Members of the Eleanor Chase Reentry Center in Spokane speak to Reentry Division leadership during a listening session in late August 2022. (Photo courtesy of DOC Communications)

They happen in conference rooms, offices, visiting areas and break rooms at reentry centers and prisons throughout the state.

The Reentry Division Road Show is in the midst of a six-week tour of Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) facilities that provide staff the opportunity to discuss their work with division leadership.

“I appreciated the time with staff and their feedback,” said Reentry Assistant Secretary Danielle Armbruster. “I saw honesty and vulnerability in every session in different ways.”

The first wave of sessions were held at Monroe and Airway Heights correctional facilities, DOC, Correctional Industries headquarters, and at Reentry Centers in Seattle and Spokane.

“You are the foundation of the operation, and it’s critical that we hear from you,” Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Russell said at the outset of one Monroe listening session. “We wanted to create a venue where it’s comfortable for you to share the good, the bad and he ugly — what we can do more or less of as a division anfd an agency to help you take care of business, feel good about the work you do, to feel valued, to know that you do make a difference and how you connect the dots to make us successful.”

Stops at prisons and reentry centers elsewhere in the state are planned through mid-October. And though the sessions are targeted toward Reentry staff, participants have included members from several divisions.

“I really hope if they take anything from these it’s that we’re doing things with this and we will use it to grow and improve as a division,” Armbruster said. “It’s about having a conversation to really understand how we can support what people need.”

Armbruster has said the feedback from the first sessions has been valuable, with similar concerns brought up at several sites. That has given the leadership team enough information to take stock and look inwardly at what can be done to improve the division, as well as the department as a whole.

“It is important that every member of the Department of Corrections feels valued and important, no matter what their role,” she said.

Staff have made it clear that communication must improve at all levels, and that messaging does not consistently reach people. Frustrations with staffing and COVID-19 restrictions have also been prominent. Virtual meetings and masking affect interpersonal communication, body language and other means of communication that have dissipated since the pandemic has thrown everything for a loop. Armbruster said she hopes some of those challenges wane as COVID restrictions ease and DOC returns to something like it was in 2019.

“This can be a tough place to work, but it can be made better if we get back to the mindset that being part of DOC means you are part of a large family,” she said.

Here are snippets of the feedback that has been given so far:

“I think there’s opportunities for training in cultural competence to better understand the culture of the people we serve.”
“It is imperative that front line supervisors communicate what they receive from higher up the chain.”
“What are we doing with staff once we get them in? Is there anything being looked at to get better training for new people?”
“I would like to have broader mentorship opportunities for lower-level staff and their direct supervisors.”
“Regular training and communication about how and why something is done and its importance.”
“Mandatory overtime is a big drawback.”
“A lot of the negatives you see on the survey are the totality of everything. COVID, masks, testing, vaccinations, closures of facilities, personnel shortages, all of that was culminating and culminating and culminating into dissatisfaction.”
“Work/life balance is difficult because it’s personal. You care about your work and the people you work with.”
“There’s opportunity to grow people’s skills, but it’s hard to hire for many positions.”
“We hear that we don’t get the communication we need but we’re also overcommunicated with. We’re so inundated with communication we don’t need that we can miss the things we do need.”
“I think people are done with Teams. This constant meeting, meeting, meeting. We’re just going through the motions, and we need to get back to having real conversations and being humans.”
“The continental divide in terms of the continental view of DOC over the last three years has been spread thin. Hopefully it goes back to the way it was. Now it seems like everyone is just circling the wagon to take care of their own. I miss having that camaraderie and having that ability to call some of these facilities.”
“I’ve heard so many comments that we give all these resources to people on supervision, but what resources do we provide to staff?”
“What we do here is going to affect what happens when they get out there. Whatever your position is, from officer on up, is going to have a huge effect on them. But if staff don’t understand, don’t have any knowledge of or training in that it can make it difficult, and they feel like they’re not included.”
“If people saw how much of positive effects Reentry has on reducing recidivism that in itself will help bring more people to DOC. I think it will change a lot of peoples’ views on what corrections is. That would also be a part of empowerment because people will realize when they walk out of here every day they will understand that they played a huge role in what will happen when that person is back out in the community. There is a direct connection between the community and the department as a whole.”