Innovative approach hopes to build bridges between prisoners and guards
Salinas Valley State Prison has a reputation for violence and the warden wants to turn that around and make a positive example.
“Our reputation is our biggest challenge,” said Warden Trent Allen.
As a result of that challenge, Allen is implementing an approach that originated in Norway. The Amend Project’s humanization approach is being used at the facility’s Psychiatric Patient Treatment Centers.
Allen emphasized the importance of the men in blue seeing the humanity of the men in green, and the men in green seeing the humanity of the men in blue.
Most of the violence at SVSP happens in the Psych treatment facilities.
One of the few institutions that have psych in-patient services, SVSP is a challenging environment. Allen says he learns from talking with other wardens. “Good ideas usually come from other places,” he said.
“Sometimes with psych intake, it’s a real tough time in their life,” said Allen, making reference to the patients.
E. Bielanski has worked at SVSP for 13-14 years and grew up in the Salinas Valley. In 2019 he was promoted to Sergeant.
“You go to the court to be punished, you go to prison to become a better neighbor,” said Sergeant Bielanski.
When Bielanski toured the Snake River Complex in Oregon as a part of the Amend Project, he saw a correctional officer inject a little humanity into his communications with the residents. “It helped tremendously,” Bielanski said.
He jumped at the chance to go to Norway and get involved in the Amend Project.
“I could do a better job. I saw some things in the Amend training that I didn’t like about myself. Injecting humanity works,” said Bielanski.
According to Allen, staff says that some of the incarcerated residents are just waiting for the officers to make the first move, and then they will respond.
Bielanski says that it doesn’t have to be that way. “The humanize approach was used, and a patient was able to have unrestrained contact with another human being for the first time in 20 years,” he said.
The warden thinks 45 to 60 days after the program is implemented, officers will be able to conduct more humanistic activities.
“Our main effort in the Amend project with University of California at San Francisco is to make a better environment here for staff and inmates both,” said Allen.
Project Amend’s innovation is to make connections between prison officers and the incarcerated so that people and programs have success, like Norway’s progressive prison system.
“Hopefully this will spread like wildfire. I don’t have to go to work every day and use force and do cell extractions,” said the sergeant.
“Too many inmates are going to the hospital,” he said.
Allen asserted that he really wants to change that and make a positive example of a humanizing approach.
Allen admitted that it’s “tougher getting people down here,” making reference to volunteers and staff.
“The more programs we have, the more positive it will feel,” said the warden.
Sargent Bielanski recently traveled to Norway with a CDCR delegation, including San Quentin Prison’s Lieutenant Sam Robinson, to learn more about the humanization approach.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Sgt. Bielanski. All he is doing, it’s tremendous,” said Warden Allen.