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The Oregon Way

The Oregon Way image.JPGInspired by the Norwegian System

In late September 2017, an Oregon delegation including state legislators, the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC) and members of the Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) traveled to Norway as a part of the US-European Criminal Justice Innovation Program. Sponsored by the Prison Law Office of Berkley and the CJC and developed by the Criminal Justice & Health Program at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), the program aims to support select US states in improving policies and procedures in their criminal justice systems. The Oregon Department of Corrections 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:

  • Improving conditions of confinement.
  • Humanizing adults in custody and staff interactions and normalizing prison operations; and
  • Reducing the overall use of incarceration.

During their trip to Norway, the Oregon delegation visited six Norwegian prisons and the Norwegian Correctional Service Headquarters and Training Academy. The team also heard from correctional service leaders from Norway, Sweden, and Ireland about innovative and humane approaches in conditions of confinement, treatment, diversion, and community reentry. Drawing on these experiences, the team developed a common vision for DOC in continuing its efforts to reduce crime through the smart use of an individual's time in custody.

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Staff Wellness in Oregon:

Staff wellness is DOC's most important strategic initiative. Several years ago, DOC partnered with Portland State University (PSU) and Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) to help us better understand the mental health and physical well-being of our team. PSU learned that one-in-three of our correctional staff have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is greater than police, fire, even those in active military duty.

There have been several studies on the stress on police officers and fire fighters, but corrections was never a focus for research work. Much like the AICs who are removed from the streets and can be forgotten, the same can be said for the honorable men and women who work these difficult assignment behind grey walls and fences.

Humanizing and Normalizing:

Both here in the US and internationally, the concepts of "Humanizing and Normalizing" are debated and examined. Normalizing an individual's environment and creating humane conditions and interactions while incarcerated is believed to create safer prisons and communities through successful re-entry and lower recidivism.

It's often forgotten that the vast majority of the nearly 12,000 men and women housed by DOC will be released from custody. These previously incarcerated individuals will one day grocery shop alongside us and our families, they will share our freeways and live in our neighborhoods. Humanizing and normalizing prisons benefits us all.

What is the Department Doing? 

Resource Teams - 

In March of 2019, DOC developed a Resource Team. The Resource Team approach empowers staff to work safely and effectively with the highest-risk, highest-need incarcerated individuals to dramatically increase timeout- of-cell and ultimately support them to live safely and successfully without isolation. Resource Teams are based in a restrictive housing unit 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 Team members receive extensive additional training, and dedicated project time, to work effectively with the most complex individuals.

Click the links below for more information about Resource Team and what they do. 

Resource Team Part 1          Resource Team Part 2

Contact Officers - 

A Contact Officer is a correctional officer or staff person who is assigned to a small number of incarcerated individuals to support their success and prevent problems before they arise. The Contact Officer might connect incarcerated individuals to resources and opportunities, support them as a coach, mentor, and role model, or create events or small projects that make their housing unit a better place to work and live. The Contact Officer has more tools to hold incarcerated individuals' accountable because they are empowered to make important decisions in their unit and can create meaningful opportunities for the population they're working with. 

Measures of Success:

Change cannot occur simply through top-down system changes and practices. It will require a grass-roots change in philosophy and mindset of the entire DOC team. Measures of success will include, but are not limited to:

  • Improvements in officer health and well-being
  • Increase job satisfaction
  • Reductions in staff turnover
  • Dramatic reductions in the use of restrictive housing and similar disciplinary actions
  • All measures of recidivism