UCSF Experts Host New York City Officials on Review of Norway, Netherlands Jail Systems

Trip Aims to Inform Transformation of the City’s Jail System

By Laura Kurtzman

UC San Francisco correctional health experts with Amend at UCSF are taking a delegation from the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the NYC Department of Correction, and other policy and community experts to Europe to identify design elements in Norwegian and Dutch correctional facilities that could help build a more humane correctional system. This trip is the first step in a partnership between Amend at UCSF and New York City to drive meaningful and lasting changes to the city's correctional culture.

Amend at UCSF works to reform correctional cultures, and reduce the debilitating health effects of punitive environments. NYC officials are in the midst of culture change and the process of transforming the city’s justice system to create a smaller and more humane borough-based jail system to replace the Rikers Island jail complex.

In the past five years, Amend has worked with correctional officials and legislators in seven states to improve the safety, health and wellness of incarcerated people, correctional staff, and their families. The program has helped to bring about significant reductions in violence and in the use of solitary confinement, increased job satisfaction for correctional officers, and improved well-being and readiness for reentry among residents. 

Brie Williams, MD, MS, director of Amend at UCSF, is a member of the team going to Europe to identify design elements in correctional facilities that could help build a more humane correctional system.

“American corrections has lost its way, and the impact on health is staggering,” said Brie Williams, MD, MS, a professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at UCSF and the director of Amend at UCSF. “Our prisons and jails are often unhealthy for everyone inside them — both residents and staff. Suicide is devastatingly common among prisoners, and correctional officers have a life expectancy of around 59, the lowest of any profession in America.”

Amend at UCSF provides a multi-year program, drawing on the profoundly different practices used in Norway and throughout Europe, to inspire health-focused culture changes in American correctional facilities. Norwegian correctional facilities use an approach known as “dynamic security,” in which interactions between officers and residents of correctional facilities are aimed at supporting residents, so they can be good neighbors when they return to their communities. 

“The expectation is that every contact between officer and resident is an opportunity to help people who are incarcerated lead healthier lives,” Williams said. “It’s a very different approach that is focused on health and well-being, and creating a dignity-driven, humane environment.”

Amend at UCSF’s program includes facilitated immersion programs in Norway for criminal justice policy makers and frontline staff of correctional facilities; a job shadowing experience for correctional officers; and participation in an intensive culture change training program designed to bring knowledge to U.S. staff of how to engage in dignity-driven correctional practices, followed by technical assistance to drive thoughtful culture transformation.

The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) is exclusively focused on the health sciences and is dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. UCSF Health, which serves as UCSF’s primary academic medical center, includes top-ranked specialty hospitals and other clinical programs, and has affiliations throughout the Bay Area.