Governor Inslee appoints current DSHS secretary Cheryl Strange as new DOC secretary – State of Reform
Sydney Kurle | May 3, 2021
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that he will appoint Cheryl Strange secretary of the Washington Corrections Department (DOC). She will replace Steve Sinclair who announced his retirement in January.
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Strange is currently secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Social Services (DSHS). She has held this position since her appointment by Inslee in 2017.
From 2008 to 2011, she previously served as Deputy Secretary of DOC and was also Vice President of Pioneer Human Services where she worked on important issues of re-entry, release from work and behavioral health. Prior to serving as Secretary of DSHS, she was CEO of Western State Hospital and Director of the Health Benefits Trust for SEIU 775.
The appointment comes after multiple reports and audits of Washington state and local prison systems have shown that delayed care for inmates has led to an increase in terminal illness diagnoses. In March, a report published by the Office of the Ombudsperson for Corrections (OCO) found that delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment at DOC facilities resulted in the death of at least one patient and terminal diagnoses for several more.
In April, a year round The King County Adult Prison Audit found issues of racial bias in housing and discipline, mental health housing shortages and more. He also found that the social distancing imposed by the pandemic significantly reduced cases of violence in the Seattle prison.
Inslee said Strange is the right choice for what DOC needs right now.
“I didn’t have to look far to find out that we have the right leader, right here, already on our team. I can’t think of anyone more qualified than Cheryl to lead DOC to her new future. She is a forward-looking leader, innovator and change agent and I know she will bring a vision and a life of proven leadership to DOC. Through her previous work at DOC and through her experience at DSHS, she understands the difficult issues around institutions and always brings a sense of humanity to the work.
She was instrumental in leading our Behavioral Health Transformation initiative within DSHS and was instrumental in our state’s leadership in my cabinet. I not only thank Cheryl for her leadership in DSHS, but I thank her for what I know she will do at DOC to further their mission. “
During his time at DSHS, Strange worked with the governor’s office and the legislature to develop the Washington Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative. As part of this initiative, the state is building a smaller public hospital, as well as several local behavioral health facilities to ensure that Washingtonians in need of hospitalization and care can be served in their community near home, family. and their relatives. The governor’s office says these changes “improve both the quality of patient care and the chances of recovery, and indicate that further progress will be made in behavioral health transformation by the Deputy Health Cabinet. of State.
Strange said she enjoyed her time at DSHS and seeks to positively transform the lives of those in prison.
“It has been an honor and a privilege for me to work for Governor Inslee for the past four years and to lead an agency that helps more than 2.4 million Washingtonians each year. What the staff at DSHS do every day to transform the lives of so many people is simply amazing. I now look forward to working with a team of people in corrections who are very committed to improving public safety and positively changing the lives of those in their care and ultimately improving the condition of Washington.
It is an extremely rewarding challenge that awaits us, particularly with the emphasis placed on the reintegration of incarcerated persons and the need to emphasize equity and racial justice in our corrections system. It is also a noble cause and I truly appreciate the Governor’s confidence as I take on this new role.
Julie Martin will be the acting secretary of DOC until Strange begins on May 15. Don Clintsman will be the acting secretary of DSHS, with national recruitment underway. Strange will be the first woman to serve as DOC secretary.