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The Oregon Way

At its foundation, the Oregon Way is about prioritizing employee health and wellbeing by normalizing the correctional environment and, in turn, improving the outcomes for incarcerated people.

Overview and Updates

The Oregon Way is a philosophical approach to corrections based on best practices in security and the belief that humanizing and normalizing the prison environment is beneficial for employees and the people we incarcerate. Recently, AMEND – the organization aiding in our efforts from the beginning – has been working at Powder River Correctional Institution (PRCF), Snake River Correctional Institution (SRCI), and Two Rivers Correctional Institution (TRCI). Click here to see the summaries of the recent work and training. 

Inspired by the Norwegian System

This innovative approach to incarceration stems from an investigation and immersion in the Norwegian correctional system. In late September 2017, an Oregon delegation, including corrections staff and state legislators, traveled to Norway as a part of the US-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program.

Sponsored by the Prison Law Office of Berkeley and the Criminal Justice Commission and developed by the Amend Program at the University of California San Francisco, the program aims to support US states in improving policies and procedures in their criminal justice systems. The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) was selected because of its low recidivism rate and history of innovative correctional and criminal justice systems approaches, with the goal of taking the state further in:

  • Humanizing the institution environments for the benefit of employees and the adults in custody (AIC); and
  • Reducing the use of special housing.
During their trip to Norway in 2017, the Oregon delegation visited six Norwegian prisons and the Norwegian Correctional Service Headquarters and Training Academy.

To gain further traction, ten DOC staff who work within Oregon’s institutions and four corrections administrators visited in September 2018. This trip was historic; no other states involved in the European Prison Project have participated in this kind of professional exchange. This experience allowed frontline staff the opportunity to job shadow and immerse into the daily lives of their Norwegian counterparts.

The exchange program was funded by the Jacob & Valerie Langeloth Foundation and developed and run by the Amend Program.

Since these two visits, Amend has conducted many onsite trainings and seminars for DOC staff in Oregon institutions, discussing and demonstrating what humanizing and normalizing looks like in practice. Even though COVID-19 put a temporary dampener on the expansion of the Oregon Way, DOC is emerging with ground-breaking initiatives focused on employee wellness, the institution environment, and AIC rehabilitation.


The group visits Halden prison, 2017.

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Walking the grounds at Bastoy, 2017.


Speaking to Norwegian Officers, 2017.

The Oregon Way in Action


The SRCI IMU “Step-Up” Program began in October 2019. DOC has been working with Dr. Ryan Labreque, Central Florida University, who has acquired funding from the Charles Koch Foundation to assist DOC in implementing and evaluating a stepdown unit/process from the Intensive Management Unit at SRCI.

The purpose of the SRCI IMU “Step-Up” Program is to operate a prison management system that creates a pathway for offenders to step-down from the IMU program to lower security level general populations in a way that maintains public, staff, and AIC safety and by applying the principles of evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism back to the IMU program.

The program features cognitive behavior programming offered both in a classroom and on the unit, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), GED and transition programming (Road to Success) for those AICs getting ready for release.

AICs start the program at Phase 1 for 30 days. After engaging in programming and with positive behavior, AICs go to Phase 2 for 60 days. In Phase 2, they attend activities in the unit without restraints and engage in socialization activities with up to four other AICs. This reduces the effects of long-term restrictive housing on the AIC and also allows staff the ability to monitor the progress of these AICs in the unit.


Staff at the Oregon State Penitentiary are at the beginning stages of creating Resource Teams in the institution’s special housing units. These teams are designed to assess individual needs of the most mentally ill incarcerated people. Often, these people are hesitant to leave their cell and participate in positive programming and activities to help them become better citizens within the facility and upon release.

Oregon State Penitentiary staff are using any free time to discuss individual needs, create innovative solutions and implement new ideas in order to help those on the unit.

From Inmate to Adult in Custody

Words are powerful and they matter. It is neither normal nor human to label people, and by calling people “inmates” it is labeling. ...It sets up a dynamic in prison that follows them into the community and impacts their re-entry into society.

— Colette S. Peters, DOC Director
In 2019, the Oregon State Legislature passed a bill officially changing all statutory references from the word "inmate" to the words "adults in custody" (or AIC). While DOC had been using AIC for years prior, the bill's passing represents an important step in humanizing the prison environment.

Staff Break Room.JPG 

Pictured: the sign for Halden prison and a staff breakroom at the facility.

Halden Prison Sign.JPG