Blog Article 

 Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters 

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Michael Santos

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According to the Oregon Capital Chronicle, Attorney General Garland will soon appoint Colette Peters, a reform-minded director to lead our nation’s prison system. This appointment represents a considerable step forward. With her leadership, we can look forward to a system that will focus on a pursuit of excellence, with programs designed to help people reach their highest potential.

Why We’re Encouraged with the Appointment of Colette Peters:

Ms. Peters became the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections in 2012. That was the same year I transitioned to a halfway house after 25 years in federal prison. While serving my sentence, reading about the Norwegian prison system inspired me. From the Oregon article, I learned that Ms. Peters traveled to Norway to tour Norwegian prisons in 2017. When she returned, she continued to reform the Oregon system, implementing takeaways from what she saw in Norway.

What’s different in Norway?

  • Rather than focusing on turning calendar pages, the Norwegian system focuses on preparing people for law-abiding, contributing lives.
  • Rather than obliterating hope, Norwegian prisons incentivize a pursuit of excellence.
  • Rather than disparaging people in prison, the leaders in Norway create an environment that encourages people to work toward reconciling with society and preparing for success.

Wanting to bring those changes to Oregon, Colette Peters branded the “The Oregon Way” of running prisons.

According to the prison system’s website:

“The Oregon Way is about prioritizing employee health and well-being by normalizing the correctional environment and, in turn, improving the outcomes for incarcerated people.” The goal is “humanizing the institution environments for the benefit of employees and the adults in custody.”

Oregon Department of Corrections

In the vernacular of the Oregon prison system, we can notice the absence of the disparaging labels of inmate, prisoner, and convict.

What’s different about the Oregon Way under Colette Peters?

Colette Peters began to initiate reforms to ensure better health for those who worked in prisons and more humane treatment for those serving sentences in Oregon’s 14 prisons.

When Ms. Peters found evidence that family visits and community ties led to lower recidivism rates, she reformed visiting policies to make it more convenient for family members to stay close to their loved ones in prison. Besides changing visiting times, she also “softened the environment” to lessen the trauma for the children of incarcerated people.

The article also points out that Colette Peters wants to bring the reforms she brought to Oregon to the nation’s prison system.

“This is an opportunity to take the amazing progressive work that we have done within the Oregon Department of Corrections and share that with a broader organization that will help change the lives of those who. Live and work in corrections.”

That’s a very different message than the one I heard during the 9,500 days I lived as federal prisoner 16377-004.

I’m also encouraged by her background. She earned a degree in psychology from the College of Saint Benedict, and master’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Colorado. She built her career as a juvenile counselor in Iowa, an advocate in Denver, and an assistant director and inspector general at the Oregon Department of Corrections, before transitioning to the adult prisons in Oregon. It would appear that she did start off on the “custody” side of the prison system. I am optimistic that she might be more receptive to “corrections,” with hopes that she brings policies to encourage and incentivize people that work to earn freedom.

Related Links to Colette Peters BOP News:

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