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Amend: How We Create Better Neighbors

March 8, 2023

By Danielle Jimenez DOC Communications

(Danielle Jimenez, Communications Office)

In 2020, the department partnered with Amend at the University of California San Francisco to bring a health-focused approach to transforming the culture inside Washington’s prisons and reentry centers, with an emphasis on increasing staff wellness and job satisfaction, and working to better support and prepare incarcerated individuals for their return to society.

The aim of the program is to bring Norwegian principles back to American prisons and do it with an individualized approach for each facility and each state.

“We are learning from [the Norwegians], we’re taking some things from them, but we are modifying it how it’s going to work for us,” said Nathan Stolen, Corrections Officer for the Amend Resource Team at Stafford Creek Corrections Center (SCCC). Several other states have brought the program to their prisons in partnership with Amend at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF); including North Dakota, Oregon and California. Each is taking a different approach to what works for them, but all with the goal to transform correctional culture and improve the health and safety of those working and living in America’s prisons.

In Washington, Amend is in the pilot stages at facilities such as Stafford Creek Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), and Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women (MCCCW). The Department of Corrections (DOC) is working to expand programs within these facilities as well as extend them to other facilities across Washington. Some of the goals include training more staff on Amend principles (such as dynamic security, normalization and progression), and creating more resource teams to better help incarcerated individuals across the state.

“A Resource Team is a group of individuals who are working to change correctional culture, and our goal is to ensure that successful transitions occur, so we can reduce the amount of recidivism within the prison system,” said Eric Garcia, corrections sergeant and Amend Resource Team lead at Stafford Creek Corrections Center.

At Stafford Creek, the pilot Resource Team is currently assigned to the Intensive Management Unit or what’s also known as the Restrictive Housing Unit, where some of the most vulnerable and violent incarcerated individuals are housed. They spend hours of individualized time with incarcerated individuals helping them prepare for life outside prison. They even play games like basketball, cornhole and cards, giving individuals in these higher custody-level units more chances to have positive and safe interactions outside their cells.

Other programs being developed include the contact officer model and activity teams. Contact officers work in general population, and learn new ways of interacting and talking with those in their care and custody. These new approaches include reaching out to incarcerated folks to see what they may need, getting to know each other on a human level, and breaking down barriers and preconceived notions of one another.

Activity teams, which are still being developed, are teams that bring activities of all kinds to individuals and units throughout the prison.

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 individuals.

In each unit and facility involved with Amend, officers are creating and building their own programs and teams from the ground up the way it works for them, their staff and their facility.

All of these approaches are not only proven to help incarcerated individuals, but are also tremendously helpful for staff wellness. Staff are safer because of the positive relationships they have with incarcerated, and the mutual respect that allows for less conflict and better communication.

Something as simple as learning to give an order in a more respectful and kind way will often diffuse a situation that in the past could’ve escalated to the use of force, said Lieutenant Lance Graham, DOC Amend Partnership. Now we rarely have any use of force within our Intensive Management Unit, he added.

Additionally, staff who have participated in the program said it brought them a lot more meaning and fulfillment in the work they do.

“It’s not only going to make our lives better and decrease the stress that we feel on a day-to-day basis, but it’s going to give a little bit more purpose to the job that we do,” Kabrina Riley, WCCW Corrections Sergeant.

Amend is a top priority for DOC leadership, and with the right funding and enough time, Amend is going to become a new way of life for all those working and living in Washington’s prisons.

Watch the first video in our Amend Series: “Amend: Improving Washington’s Correctional System for Staff & Incarcerated.”