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Crisis Negotiators: A Key Piece for Success

May 8, 2024

By Lukas D’Ambrosio Communications Office

The Crisis Negotiations Teams (CNT) at the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) are frontline stars, working tirelessly to de-escalate crises within correctional facilities. Their role extends beyond diffusing immediate threats; they serve as catalysts for personal growth and conflict resolution among incarcerated individuals. Through daily interactions, CNT members employ active listening skills, offering individuals in crisis a platform to express themselves, be heard, and navigate towards rational solutions. These types of interactions reduce the need and use of force throughout the facility.

As the DOC embraces initiatives like the AMEND program, crisis negotiators are poised to play a pivotal role. Drawing from techniques akin to motivational interviewing, negotiators empower individuals to identify pro-social solutions to their immediate crises. Rather than providing answers, they facilitate introspection and exploration, nurturing long-term behavioral change and conflict resolution skills. The skills that incarcerated individuals learn from these pro social interactions follow them through their reentry process and can directly impact their success in managing crisis in the future.

“We will never truly understand someone else’s crisis, even if we have been through something similar,” said Edward Trowbridge, a Correctional Unit Supervisor at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center and member of the Crisis Negotiations Team. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t help. We all can empathize with others and treat people the way we want to be treated. We all have the ability to sit and listen. Giving other people the opportunity to be heard is sometimes all they need.”

Becoming a member of the CNT is no small feat. Candidates undergo rigorous written and oral examinations, evaluating their ability to work under stress and collaborate with others effectively. Flexibility, patience, and quick decision-making are essential traits, enabling negotiators to navigate emotionally charged situations with finesse. One of the most important aspects a candidate must show is a proven track record for remaining impartial and putting personal biases aside. Cultural competence is paramount, as negotiators work with diverse populations, requiring openness and understanding to bridge potential divides.

Training is a cornerstone of the CNT's effectiveness. Members attend formal classroom sessions, engaging in incident reviews, scenario-based exercises, and facilitated discussions. Ongoing training opportunities, both within facilities and through external collaborations, ensure that negotiators remain sharp and adaptable. Participation in conferences and competitions, such as the Western States Hostage Negotiator Association, further enriches their skill set, fostering continuous improvement and innovation.

In a landscape where tensions can run high and emotions often cloud judgment, crisis negotiators are beacons of reason and empathy. Their unwavering commitment to de-escalation and rehabilitation not only safeguards the well-being of correctional facilities but also fosters a culture of accountability, growth, and resilience among incarcerated individuals. As they continue to refine their craft and embrace new methodologies, their impact resonates far beyond the walls of the prison, shaping brighter futures for all involved.