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Mindfulness-Based Staff Wellbeing in Oregon's Corrections Leadership with Director Colette S. Peters

Updated: Apr 17

Leading the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) since February 2012, Director Colette S. Peters, has ultimate oversight of an agency with 4,700 employees; a biennial budget of $2 billion; and responsibility for managing 14,700 incarcerated adults in 14 prisons across the state. Director Peters, who is a national advocate for wellness in public safety, active with many national corrections and public safety organizations, discusses Oregon’s justice reinvestment effort, which reduced the prison population and avoided opening additional institutions, their more humanitarian approach to correctional practice known as the Oregon Way, and their very significant investment in staff wellness and resilience. How they responded to six staff suicides in an 18 month period by engaging university research partners to study their staff wellness, their discovery that, despite being widely recognized as a progressive correctional system, one-in-three of their employees had symptoms of PTSD and over 90% were dealing with significant weight issues or obesity and hypertension. How they made employee wellness their #1 priority, bringing in a mindfulness-based staff wellbeing and resiliency training program and making a long-term commitment to staff wellness. Their ongoing exploration of the Norway model and the development of the Oregon Way correctional philosophy.

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Mindfulness-Based Staff Wellbeing in Oregon's Corrections Leadership with Director Colette S. Peters Transcript


Fleet Maull:  

Welcome to another session here on day six of the Global First Responder Resilience Summit.  I'm your host, Fleet Maull. I'm very excited to be here today with Director Colette Peters from  the Oregon Department of Corrections. Hello, Director Peters. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Hello, great to see you again. 


Fleet Maull:  

It's great to see you again. It's been a while since I've been able to get out to Oregon with the  pandemic preventing travel. So, I want to share with our audience a little bit about your  background. And then, we'll just jump right into the conversation. Our focus today is on leading  healthy change in public safety. I think people will get from your bio, why you're an ideal  presenter to be having this conversation with. 


Colette Peters has served as director of the Oregon Department of Corrections since  February 2012. She has the ultimate oversight for an agency with 4700 employees, a biennial  budget of two billion and responsibility for managing 14,700 incarcerated adults in 14 prisons  across the state. 


Miss Peters played a crucial role in Oregon's justice reinvestment effort, which reduce  the prison population and avoid opening additional institutions. Under Miss Peters' leadership,  Oregon Department of Corrections enrolled in the amend at University of California, San  Francisco and developed the Oregon Way. The goal is to improve employee health and  wellness and reduce the use of segregation by transforming environments inside correctional  facilities to be more normal and humane.  


The program has focused efforts on helping the adults in custody positively change  their lives and become better neighbors. Miss Peters holds a bachelor's degree in criminal  justice from the University of Colorado in Denver, and a bachelor's degree in psychology from  the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Prior to being director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, I believe you are director of the Oregon Department of Youth  Services. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Yes, the Oregon Youth Authority. That's right. 


Fleet Maull:  

So, you've held Oregon State leadership positions in juvenile justice and adult corrections.  Could you share a little bit about what drew you into public safety to begin with? How did you  end up with this long career in public safety? 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

I always knew I wanted to be in a helping field. I didn't know exactly where it would take me in  the very end, but I remember memories as early as kindergarten, where there was a young  fellow classmates who had brought a pocket knife to school. 


I clearly remember the teacher putting him under her arm and marching him to the  principal's office. I remember thinking, "I need to help him." And I did. I followed him  throughout his life. He weaved in and out of the juvenile justice system. And then, it was really  I think the whole of my education system really highlighted in Benedictine Principles from my  early K through six experience to my college experience and in all Benedictine College that  really helped me understand that important link between public safety and that moral and  social responsibility that we have for each other.  


And so, I really took my Catholic liberal arts education into a career with public safety  over the years, and just know how intimately connected those Social Services and Public  Safety Systems are. And I simply believe in people. I believe people can change. I believe that  people are inherently good. And that often, it's just the skills and the tools that are lacking.  And so, weaves my way through the criminal justice system working as a victim's advocate, as  you mentioned, the Department of Corrections, the Youth Authority, and now, I've been here. This was my 10th year as director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. 


Fleet Maull:  

Wow. Well, we have a little commonality in our background. I had a good Jesuit education. So, I'm very familiar with that. I have family members that went to Benedictine schools. 


As a director of the Oregon Department of Corrections you have championed, what you're calling the Oregon Way. Could you tell us a little bit more what that's all about? I don't  know if they're related, but I think you've had some of your personnel visit Norway, you've had  some folks come over from Norway, because a lot of people are familiar with the kind of  Norway model corrections, which is considered a somewhat enlightened approach in  Scandinavia. So, I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit more about all that.

 

Director Colette S. Peters:  

Yeah, absolutely. The core of our work has been employee wellness. I think I'll start there, Fleet, which you have been intimately a part of here in Oregon. I really want to give accolades  to your work and what it did to really catapult this wellness conversation in Oregon. So, we'll  be forever grateful for your ongoing work here in Oregon.  


When I became director 10 years ago, we had six staff suicides in an 18-month period.  It was devastating for all of us. We didn't understand it. I, as a former researcher, of course,  turned to research to figure out what was happening in a correction setting. And there was  nothing. We had studied firefighters, police officers, military, but we had not study corrections.  


And so, we brought in Portland State University and Oregon Health Sciences University  to really help us understand what was happening with our employees. What we learned was  absolutely devastating. One in three of our employees had symptoms of PTSD, which you  know leads to alcohol and drug abuse, divorces, dying young, all of those horrible statistics. And then, we learned we physically weren't fit either. Over 90% were obese, overweight. Over 90% had hypertension or pre-hypertension. And so, we knew we had a significant issue to manage to.  


And so, those two universities along with your help around mindfulness, meditation,  and teaching our people how to get from that state of hypervigilance up here, to that state of  vigilance, and how all of those brain traumas can come down in that moment. They actually  become more effective corrections professionals. But putting those types of plans together to  really help our employees become well, both for them and for those who they care for.  


The whole idea is, if they're well, then their ability to care for these adults in custody just kind of snowballs in a really positive way. And then, we always had a progressive system  here in Oregon. Long before I arrived, we had the Oregon Accountability Model, which really  relied on research and data to drive our corrections practices. But it was also a very humane approach. It really was based in that interaction between our employees and those in our care  and custody.  


As I joined Oregon in 2004, you would walk the halls of our prisons and it didn't look  like the movies. There were employees engaging with those in custody and really caring about  their outcomes. And then, we stumbled upon Norway. We had the ability through what is now  the Amend Program to visit Norway. And as you said, a very progressive system, well  renowned around the globe, and really embedded in those two concepts of humanization and  normalization. 


We originally took a group of kind of high brass at BSc and a legislative group to study  it and kind of get a first blush of how they did corrections, and it was eye opening. We sit in  Oregon, I'm always kind of proud of the Oregon system, one of the best in the country. What is  Norway have to offer that Oregon didn't? So, we went there, a little bit skeptical. And it was a  paradigm shift. I mean, absolutely.  


We talked about hypervigilance. Our employees in Oregon came to work every day and  the forefront of their minds knowing that they could get assaulted. The Norwegians came to  work every day knowing that the likelihood of them getting assaulted was very low. But if it  happened, they were prepared. And so, they didn't enter the institutions with their brain  elevated. And when bad things happen, they were trained and ready to deal with those  circumstances.  


It was really compelling. While we were there, one of the things we thought of is how  will we actually share what we've seen with our employees? Wouldn't it be amazing if we  could do an exchange program? Somehow the Amend Program figured out how to garner  funding to get a group of officers and corrections professionals over to Norway. It was an  exchange program.  


They moved in with employees of their same rank. Got to live with their family, their  culture, and work their shifts. Those individuals are really the ones credited with creating what  you referred to as now the Oregon Way that took who we were as a department with the  Oregon accountability model, weaving in all of the things we have learned about employee  wellness or lack thereof, and then adding the two principles of normalization and humanization to create what we're now calling the Oregon Way. 


Almost without exception, any changes that happened in midst of kind of swirling  those three things together were grassroots. It was employees on the ground that were  thinking about creative, innovative ways to improve the environment, both for our employees,  and our adults in custody. It's really great to see. 


Fleet Maull:  

So much in what you shared in there. One thing that really struck me was, you said in Norway the staff and the officers are trained to have kind of a reasonable risk assessment. They  actually feel that the likelihood of being attacked could happen and they're prepared for it if it does happen.  


That's very different than I think culturally in US we've taken a very fear-based approach to training and instilling in everyone that it could happen at any moment. You have to  be in constant danger and constant fear, which means you're into hypervigilance all the time.  And actually, that's not the best place from which to respond to a crisis, right? A few notches  down in a state of readiness, you're actually going to respond better to an incident than if  you're in that really red line type of hypervigilance all the time. So, it really is a different  approach. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

It really is. Yeah, you're absolutely right. I think that concept alone gets embedded early on  with our training. The way the Norwegians kind of explained it is, on a scale of vigilance or  reactivity on a scale of zero to 10, we're training at 10. What would the law allow us to do, right? That takedown, that interaction, we trained to 10 – 10 – 10 – 10. They trained to 10 too, but they trained to zero, and then zero, and then one and then back to zero, and then two, and  then back to zero. And just really understanding that it's this side of the spectrum, that 0-1-2, where you're changing behavior in a meaningful way, as opposed to just stopping behavior now.  


And so, when you talk about the brain, one of the things that I'm really excited about is  Oregon Health Science University has recognized as others have when you're in that state of  hypervigilance, as you said, you can't respond in your best way. You can't bring your best self.  It has long term impacts on your organic brain. 

 

And so, OHSU is now actually in partnership with us conducting brain scans of our  employees. About 400 employees have volunteered to do this to really understand what will the MRI reveal as it relates to our brain structure after a lifetime or a partial lifetime working in  this field. So, we look forward to seeing what that data reveals as well. 


Fleet Maull:  

And not to be naive about the prison environment, there certainly are risks and there can be  violence. You're in charge of locking up some people who at least at this point in our lives, can  be dangerous. I don't know what the research said but I would think that a more regulated  staff, a staff with good regulation skills is probably going to help create an environment where  there'll be less violence in the end. I'm wondering about your thoughts with that. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Absolutely the truth. We had two corrections professionals while we were in Norway talk  about wanting to come back and work with one of our adults in custody. We'll call him Mr. G. When they mentioned his name, I knew exactly who they were talking about, even  though we had almost 15,000 adults in custody at the time. I knew because he was so  severely mentally ill. He had assaulted our employees' numerous times, countless times. He engaged in yelling and screaming all day long, riling up that whole unit.  When they said that they wanted to come back and work with him, I was nervous. I  thought, 'Oh boy, if this works, great, but this is one of our toughest nuts to crack. If this does  not work, we could throw the baby out with the bathwater.' Sure enough, the notions that you  just mentioned where they came and instead of trying to end the behavior that they were  seeing right now really develop that relationship and have meaningful interactions with this  individual that has now led to a human being that has had some setbacks, no doubt. But  previously, he was someone who wouldn't leave his cell.  


And now, we've learned he's an artist. He has drawn me beautiful pictures. He is a  musician. We were able to ultimately get him access to a guitar and really find who he was in  a meaningful way. He's still in one of our mental health units, but doing incredibly well. That's  just one example of numerous stories that have occurred because of our setting of Norway and creating the Oregon Way. 


Fleet Maull:  

Well, that's a great story. It is so important. The Origin Way seems that it's essentially by  humanization. Right? And recognizing the humanity in each other, whether you're a staff, whether you're incarcerated. If we can all recognize each other's basic humanity, we're going to  get better results.  


Director Colette S. Peters:  

That's right.  


Fleet Maull:  

Yeah. I remember the first conversation I had with you and your leadership team, and talking  about bringing in a mindfulness-based wellness and resiliency program. I brought up that  what we're going to be talking about here is not just a program, but it's really culture change.  


And so, you've been in a long-term process of culture change around bringing in  wellness skills around this idea of the Oregon Way and so forth. Working with an agency the  size of the Oregon Department of Corrections, 4700 employees, can probably be a bit like  trying to change course, on an aircraft carrier. I'm just curious about what your journey has  been like in terms of managing culture change and sustaining culture change over time. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

COVID has given us a whole new gift of challenges to manage to, especially as it relates to  employee wellness. And so, it's forever changing is my point in bringing that up. If ever, there  was a need for wellness and caring for these employees. It's these first responders who have  come to work every day battling all of the things that they normally battle, plus, a pandemic,  plus other things that the year has sent us our way - wildfires, evacuations, flooding. 


It's just been a nonstop pouring of things for these folks to manage. But truly the  success as you post your question, Fleet, the thing that comes to mind are the employees  themselves. It really was key individuals who understood that we needed to make change, had  the capital amongst employees to kind of share their story.  


One of them was a sergeant of ours, who was the union president at the time, who he  himself had his own internal battles with being a corrections professional and it was really  impacting his life personally. There was a divorce pending, there was alcoholism. He  considered suicide. If not for his son who arrived on scene, that is likely where his life was  ended. And as union president, he was willing to tell his story, and really talk about the  evolution that needed to happen. 


And by that, I mean, for years, much like the rest of our public safety partners,  corrections professionals, didn't talk about the impact of the job. We are toughest nails. We've  got this. We're fine. We are part of some horrific incidents battling a suicide or an assault. And  we say, "Nope, I'm going back to my shift. I'm good. I'm fine." And we don't deal with the  trauma. We don't face the trauma. We don't work through the trauma. And he worked through  the trauma. He was willing to share with our employees, what it means to work through the  trauma and not put it on a shelf and have it built up and fester, where it comes out with PTSD  and an inability to deal with the next incidents in a really healthy way.  

It's him and people like him that really allowed us to begin to change the environment.  Now, it's very normal for our employees to walk up to each other and say, "Fleet, you're just not yourself. You're just not who you were a couple of weeks ago, what's going on what's  happening?" Or very common to the point of mindfulness for our employees to walk up to each  other following incident and say, "Let's go walk and breathe. Let's go shut the door and  meditate for a little bit and see if we can bring down that adrenaline and kind of get our  biomarkers back where they need to be." 


And so, of course, we have a long way to go. It will always be evolving and ever  changing, but it certainly has been a move in the in the right direction for these professionals  that just do amazing work. 


Fleet Maull:  

I remember a number of years back being shown the video interview with the president of  union. That Seargeant was incredibly compelling. I heard and I don't know how accurate this is  but I heard at the time that when it was shown to staff widely, there were many who  welcomed finally somebody breaking the silence and there was really welcome opening up  that conversation. And then there were still some that felt like, 'I crossed the line.' So, that was  maybe kind of where the culture was at that time. It sounds like it's probably shifted since then. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

I think it certainly shifted. I think that he had three decades of experience. People really  respected him. I think the video was shocking, for sure, as you said, and so kind of put people  back on their heels. But then really just continuing and furthering the conversation has really  loosened up that ability to talk in a real way about the impacts of working in a field like  correction.


Fleet Maull:  

That's great. As a leader of your very large agency, I'm curious about, you know, you talked  about the employees who become the champions for change. You talked about him as one  example. I know, there are many others. You talked about other staff that went over to Norway  on the exchange program, and they came back, and they've been champions for culture  change, and wellness, and so forth, and different approaches.  


As a leader, could you say something about your job and how you sort of identify these  champions and support these champions and help kind of keep that momentum for change  moving forward? I can only imagine. I think you had a lot of traction going, and then, you know,  the pandemic hit. It almost seems like starting all over, in a sense. Could you talk about your  role as a leader? For other leaders, how you work with identifying those champions and  supporting them in this process, but to create the momentum for this kind of positive cultural change? 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Yeah. They always say it's so wonderful when you have the right people in the right seats  during a trying time. I am so grateful for my deputy director, the individuals who are part of my  executive team right now, and the individuals that are part of our leadership team. They're just  absolutely positively in the right roles in the midst of all the world has sent our way. And it's  really just leaning into them and relying on them and their relationships and understanding  what the pulse of our institutions are, who the employees are that might be the perfect  naysayers to have around the table. They might be the perfect supporters around the table.  


I think that's one of the things that helped us the most, is that we didn't bring Yes people around the table to explore Norway and explore the Oregon way. We brought people  who were incredibly skeptical. And then, people who were incredibly educated on the program and couldn't wait to learn more, and people all the way in between to really make sure that  the conversations we were having were real. 


For me, anytime a grand idea comes from central office, it's this new, shiny object that  everyone needs to pay attention to. That's not lasting cultural change. That's a nice shiny  object. If you are having a real conversation, having all ranks, and all different parts of the  organization around the table, exploring the ideas and asking questions and questioning in  theory and in operational capacity, that's when I've seen long lasting fulfilling cultural change  and modifications. To an environment, like you said earlier, it could feel a little bit like moving the Titanic. But when it's been the frontline folks making the momentum, it moves a lot faster. 


Fleet Maull:  

Wow! I think that's a key leadership skill, bringing in really including the skeptics and even the  naysayers or the potential naysayers in the process. I think that's such a critical leadership strategy.  


Now, I remember also, in terms of the mindfulness aspect of wellness, and some of the mindfulness-based wellness skills, we were able to do a weekend intensive retreat with a lot  of your top leadership. And for them to actually have a deep experience, spending a whole  weekend, practicing, walking, and sitting mindfulness all day long and in silence, and that was  like way off their radar screen for many of them. Some of them that had a little experience,  some of them no previous experience. But to see these leaders, I think the assistant director,  the operational director for your system was there and other lieutenants and captains and  majors, so forth, and to see them have that experience, you just knew something good was  going to come out of that. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

I've no doubt about it. The experience that you provided to our team, without exception was  life changing. I heard people out of that retreat say that again and again - life changing retreat.  And again, you know this because you were there. That room was filled with skeptics,  naysayers, and then people who had practiced mindfulness meditation and everything in  between. And you moved everyone. I don't think there was a soul there that didn't understand  the positive impacts of mindfulness meditation at the end of that weekend, both for them, and  many of them brought partners or spouses. And so, the impact really went not just to that  group, but to the people that report to them and to their families.  


I think that's one of the most compelling things that we've seen out of our wellness  work, out of our Oregon Way work, out of the mindfulness meditation, is the impact that we've  had on corrections professionals' families. The news that I get from spouses or children about  how their parents has now changed and is coming home happier.  


I had a sergeant who engaged in Norway program as well as mindfulness meditation.  His wife was pretty convinced he was having an affair because he was coming home happy  now. That was not the case. It was just a life altering experience for him to be able to really kind of capture what's really going on at work in a healthy way, so that you can come home  healthy, and be present with your family and your children. That's very powerful for me. 


Fleet Maull:  

Absolutely. That's one of the most gratifying aspects of my work, because I hear it again and  again, from people in our training. Come back for a second training or something. They talk about how their relationship with their spouses and kids has completely shifted in really  positive ways. In many cases, they've reestablished relationships with their spouses and their  children. When I hear that, that just makes it all worthwhile.  


Let's talk a little bit about your leadership at the national level. I know you've been  sharing the, I think it's the health and wellness committee at the American correctional  Association. I know you've been on a national commission having to do with the pandemic and  corrections. You're in a leadership role in a number of national organizations and a lot of focus naturally on wellness.  


So, could you talk a little bit about what's happening nationally, and the importance of  leadership, both the policymakers and the operational leaders to shift the culture and get some  traction nationally, especially in the face of what we're dealing with today? 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Yeah, sure. When we began our wellness work, that not only was a value for the Oregon  Department of Corrections, but it was also a value for OHSU and PSU, that if we finally figured  out how to make change in this area for corrections employees, that we would be able to share  it with the nation, as you have done with your work, spreading mindfulness meditation across  the country in prisons and jails throughout.  


And so, with the National Institute of Corrections, I'm currently chair of that advisory  board. But when we were beginning his conversations around wellness, I chaired the  subcommittee on wellness. And since that time, the National Institute of Corrections has made  employee wellness a top priority. 


As has the American correctional Association, you're right, I do get the privilege of  chairing their healthy culture committee, employee wellness committee, and they really have  done exceptional work. It's a very active committee. Those committee members are just filled  with ideas and constantly producing action items that are making change across the country. That includes education, research, publications, and employee wellness at the national  conferences. 


We were able to host I believe, our fourth Employee Wellness Expo, where thousands  and thousands of people come together for the American Correctional Association Conference,  they're actually able to enter a Wellness Expo, where they can learn about the negative  impacts of working in this field, and then the tools to get you through it. Plus, it includes an  opportunity to meditate in that Expo, receive a massage, meet with a nurse to take your vitals, and talk about what you need to do in order to improve your physical well-being as well.  


I think that's really important. Many of our corrections professionals we found, didn't  have their own personal data. So, they have these great health insurance benefits, but their life  is so stressful, there's not time to get to a general practitioner. So, when we do get them  access, they learned that they are in the obese category. And while they knew that they  needed to shave off some weights, they didn't realize they fit into that dangerous category.  While they knew they should maybe dial down the number of drinks they had a week, they  had no idea it was catapulting them into a place of hypertension or prehypertension.  

So, really using that national influence to make that change across the country. I hope it  really drives corrections professionals to a whole new level, from a wellness perspective and,  of course, for outcomes for the adults in custody. 


Fleet Maull:  

With just the fact that these natural organizations like the American Correctional Association,  National Institute of Corrections, and others are prioritizing wellness and employee safety and  so forth, really speaks to some kind of change. But I'm curious, you interact with a lot of  correctional leaders across the country. I'm curious, if you are really seeing the pendulum shift,  if you're seeing a kind of a national commitment to employee safety and wellness. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

I am. No doubt about it. I think you can't listen to the sergeant you listen to or listen to the data  without being compelled to go back and do something for your people. Right? And so, I think  that's certainly what we saw from these directors across the country.  

Like me, they had attended at the funerals. They had talked people through the  divorces. They had seen people lose their careers because of DUIs. But we hadn't really  addressed the issue. And so, to be able to provide tools for these directors to go back and do things, one, they simply just wanted to do it. But then secondly, associations like the American  correctional Association created standards where, if you're going to be ACA accredited, you  will have a wellness program. That makes change. You measure what matters. People pay  attention to what gets measured, right. And so being able to even do simple things like that,  really, I think have made a difference. 

 

And then, you mentioned the COVID Commission, the Council on criminal justice, a  relatively new think tank filled with really great individuals around the Board of Trustees and  the council at large. Even when they're looking at topic issues like policing right now or COVID inside our institutions, even that was done with a lens through employee wellness. And so, I  think that certainly is a sign of the times and a sign that the nation is really beginning to value  our corrections professionals, and really understand the importance of keeping them well.  


Fleet Maull:  

Having a career like you have, having a level of responsibility that you have. I mean, I assume  you have found interesting ways to work with us. Especially during a pandemic now, having  that oversight and that responsibility for 4700 employees and 14,700 incarcerated adults.  What do you do to take care of yourself? How do you stay resilient as a leader, and as a human being? 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Well, I like to say it's hard to be human. So, some days are better than others. I always did  pride myself in being healthy. I'm a runner. I drink lots of water. My husband and I are very  serious about what food comes into the house, what we eat. But even when I began our work  with OHSU and the doctors were showing us what's important, I checked those boxes. And  then, he started talking about sleep.  


Before I met Dr. Kerry Keel, I would probably work until midnight, and then I'd get up at  04:00 – 04:30 and get my workout in because that's what we were supposed to do. And then  proceed to work all day again until we got dinner on. Work with the kids. And when the kids  got to bed, I pull that iPad out and work until midnight again.  


Dr. Kerry Keel made it very clear that I might as well be getting up and smoking a pack  of cigarettes. That that sleep component was so important. And of course, it's the REM sleep  that we've all heard about but it's really that deep sleep that allows you to fight cancer, to  fight heart disease. 


And so, I then began placing a really significant importance on sleep and measuring it  and watching it. I've got my Apple Watch that tells me what my sleep was like the night  before and really paying attention to that. That really has made a difference.  


And really talking and trying to be my true self around my executive team. Not  pretending that everything is fine. But really talking about what are the stressors at home,  what are the stressors around the conference table, what are the stressors coming in from the  governor's office or the legislative process, and then giving them that permission to really be  real about what's going on with them as well, so that we can support each other and really,  really accept that this is just a really difficult field that we've got significant challenges. 


And then, doing the same at home. Just being really real with my husband and the kids  about what's happening at work and kind of the stressors that come along with that, so that  we're all being really honest about, about what life is like, and how we're going to get through  those challenges.  


But certainly, the running the eating, well, drinking, lots of water, yoga, meditation, all  of those things, certainly helped keep me centered. But again, hard to be human so I'm not  centered all the time, but always working towards it. 


Fleet Maull:  

Well, you spoke very eloquently. I think I often think of resilience as having a vertical axis or  pole, which is all things we can do to take care of ourselves, even the depth of our spiritual  well-being that we access through faith or meditation or so forth. But all the things we can do  to be more resilient as individuals, but then that critical horizontal landscape of our social  connections and being willing to be open and vulnerable and transparent with others. It just  changes everything. It's the isolation that can really, you know. 

Tough jobs often can tend to be isolating. And then with the pandemic, there's a push  towards isolation, right? So, it seems like it's really time to double down on maintaining our  connections and really healthy connectedness personally and professionally. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

I couldn't agree more. Absolutely. If ever there was a time that we needed to double down  personally and then as an agency and an organization on wellness and care for each other, it's now.


Fleet Maull:  

Well, I'd like to kind of finish off here. This has been wonderful. Thank you so much. I'll ask you  to pull out your crystal ball a little bit maybe. It doesn't look like the world's going to get any  less complex or any easier anytime soon. Unfortunately, we're hearing that this pandemic may  have become endemic and this may be something that cycles back year after year. There may  be other pandemic coming our way.  


We have the climate crisis, which is already creating all kinds of disruptions. You had  the fires out there in Oregon, and we've just seen incredible flooding in the northeast from  Hurricane Ivan. I mean, it's just clear. And with population and the stresses that's going to pick  globally, and how interconnected our world is globally. I mean, there's just no way to isolate in  a bubble somewhere and be okay.  


And so, things are going to be really challenging. I often think some of these  disruptions could even lead to social chaos in some places if we don't have resilient  communities, cohesive communities, and resilient individuals and leaders. Especially our public  safety system, if our public safety system is challenged more by social instability, political  instability, and it's not resilient, that's not a good combination.  


So, I'm just curious about what you see as the future of public safety and how maybe  leaders need to be thinking about preparing the field for an even more challenging profession  in the coming decades. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Yeah. You say that you think you can predict what's coming, but anyone who says that now  after the last year that we have is not telling the truth because there's no way we could have  predicted all of the things that you just mentioned, Fleet, including the flooding, the fires. The  fires required us to evacuate seven prisons. Even in the midst of our most significant Incident  Command training, we wouldn't have put evacuations of seven prisons on a tabletop exercise, right.  


And so, the challenges are not going away, it seems. Now, what I hope continues to  happen is that we continue to drive down the population of corrections. We have engaged in  mass incarceration in Oregon, and across this country. Period. End of story. There's no close  seconds in the industrial world. And so, the pandemic has allowed us to drive some of those  numbers down. Be it court's delayed, or law enforcement officers dealing with more serious  things on the street, DEA is not prosecuting except the most serious, most violent. And public safety reform. You mentioned, Justice Reinvestment. That has now impacted nearly every  single one of our states and has allowed us to drive our population down.  


In Oregon alone. We have 3000 fewer adults in custody today than we did before the  pandemic and a substantial proportionate impact at the women's prison where that population  went from about 1280 down to just over 800. So, almost a 35% reduction. I hope that's a good  start. I hope that's not the end. Because we know what happens to generations of parents who  are incarcerated, what happens to their children. 


We need to break down the focus of who we are. We are the emergency room, if you  will, for public safety. We're expected to handle everything. And by that, I mean, corrections  has now become the largest mental health hospital in each state. We have become the largest  alcohol and drug treatment provider in each state. That is not part of our missions. That is not  what we were put in place to manage to. And so, when I hear your question, in addition to all  of the things I just mentioned, the most substantial evolution that needs to happen is our  connectivity to our health authorities.  


Now, it happens in the midst of a pandemic, but all of the things that need to be  improved in order to drive down the number of people incarcerated has to do with health and  mental health, and getting the resources on the front end in the communities before these  individuals create crime victims and get the help they need. And so, we've built bridges now to  our state health authorities and our local county public health authorities, but now we need  highways. And we need to build strong highways between those agencies to really make  substantial change down the road. And that will change the lives of those in our care and  custody, and drive down the population which in turn, will create better work environments for  our employees, and it will just all swirl together nicely. So I don't know if that's an accurate  crystal ball but that's certainly my wish lists. 


Fleet Maull:  

Absolutely. I think you're pointing to one of the silver linings of this pandemic. Hopefully, this  pandemic has been a huge wake up call for all of us on so many levels, but it's just shown us our interconnectedness all over the world in such dramatic ways.  


Public health has become front and center. How many of us were even aware of public  health and public health systems and the public health director and all this? A public health  approach to human thriving is really, I think, what we're seeing is necessary. And we've kind of  been in social denial for a long time, and not investing in the front end to support people to have good lives instead of putting the resources in a back end to maintain our mistakes or lack  of resourcing people. And so, hopefully, there is a big shift here.  


I know even around violence. I have a longtime colleague in Chicago who really  pioneered taking a public health approach to violence. He's an epidemiologist. He understands  that violence operates in the same way that viruses do. You have to treat it as a public health  issue to reduce the violence. So, I think you're right on there. And hopefully, the pandemic has  really awakened us all to the need to really focus on investing in the front end of public health  from birth forward for human beings and for our communities. Yeah.  


Well, thank you so much, Director Peters. This has been great. I know you're incredibly  busy with a lot of responsibilities. I really appreciate you taking the time to join our Summit  today. 


Director Colette S. Peters:  

Well, it's been a pleasure. Always a pleasure to spend time with you, Fleet. So, thank you so  much, and thank you to all those that are out there listening. 


Fleet Maull:  

Thank you.

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