Prison systems nationwide are working to make those who are incarcerated feel more at home in hopes it leads to better outcomes. It is known as normalization and works to make conditions inside prisons more closely mirror those on the outside.
In Colorado, the Department of Corrections has created a working group of those incarcerated that helps review DOC policy. It might seem small, but this past year the group approved a policy that allows those inside the prison system to wear their own eyeglasses.
“It allows me to show off my personality and make me feel more human,” said Denise Presson, who has been inside the prison system for more than 10 years.
In South Dakota, the state prison system implemented a program where it contracts out beds so parolees can adjust to normal life outside of prison before they are released. And in Oregon, the department of corrections has used punitive measures like isolation and restraints less so those inside its prison system feel more respected.
“Change is tough,” said Lt. Mike Real, an employee with the ODOC. “People get set in their ways, like this is the way we do it, and we are trying to change that.”
In 2017, Lt. Real flew to Norway to observe how the correctional system works there in hopes of bringing some ideas back to the Oregon Department of Corrections.
“I was taken aback just by how different it looked inside because the inside looked like we weren’t even in a prison,” he said. “There were trees and vegetation.”
“You behave how you are treated,” said Samuel Mulligan, a resident inside the Colorado Department of Corrections. “As we have progressed toward normalization, things are being changed, and like you said we are being invited right now to be a part of this process and contribute to things such as policies.”
Mulligan has been part of the CDOC’s resident advisory board for a few years and says the voice he has been given helps boost his morale and feels like he is given equity in policies that affect his own well-being.
While there is still debate over how much of an effect these types of policies have, numbers suggest they could be contributing to fewer people in the U.S. prison system. In 2019, the U.S. prison system reached its lowest total since 1995 with 1.4 million people incarcerated.