Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Promising Practices

The Blue Room


Oregon Department of Corrections

Brief Summary

Oregon Department of Corrections introduced the Blue Room concept in April 2013.  The Blue Room is an effort to bring nature imagery to individuals incarcerated in restricted housing. The Blue Room concept consists of watching nature imagery videos in two separate settings: 1. Inside a “special housing indoor recreation room” (located in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit and Intensive Management Unit); or 2. Inside a room with a painted aquarium mural (located in the Behavior Health Unit for inmates with a Serious Mental Illness). The goal of the Blue Room is to improve moods and behaviors of individuals in restricted housing with hopes to create a safer environment both for staff and people who are incarcerated.  A research team—led by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, professor of biology at the University of Utah—reported a 26 percent-lower rate of violent infractions while in the Intensive Management Unit.  Additionally, the research also reported 70 percent of staff stated the Blue Room intervention affected their relationships with inmates in a positive way. In August 2017, this research was presented to the American Psychological Association National Conference.

The Goal

The goal of the Blue Room is to improve the conditions of special housing units. By utilizing this cost-effective tool, we hope to reduce misconduct, improve the relationships between incarcerated individuals and prison staff, improve incarcerated individuals’ mental health, and ensure staff safety. One individual described the Blue Room as a peaceful place where he can go and get away from the stress and forget for a moment where he is at. Research found that the Blue Room was “successful at reducing negative emotions, such as irritability and agitation, and providing a calming effect that lasted beyond the viewing period”.

The Process

The Blue Room concept came about when a corrections officer was watching a TED Talk by Dr. Nalini Nadkarni in late 2012. He brought this to the attention of Snake River Correctional Superintendent (SRCI), Mark Nooth. Nooth then presented the idea of nature imagery in special housing to a select group of staff. One of our lieutenants brought together a group of officers and behavior health services (BHS) staff to discuss the concept. The group met and developed the idea of projecting videos with sounds of nature in our indoor recreation rooms in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU). The team felt it was important this project be led by security.

The Blue Room team grew to include staff members from information technology and our physical plant. Both of these players were vital in giving guidance on what equipment and tasks would need to be completed to accomplish building the Blue Room. In April 2014 we opened our first Blue Room at SRCI. In May 2015 the research team came to SRCI to study the impact of the Blue Room on incarcerated individuals and staff. In January/February 2017 an article on the research was published in Corrections Today.

Since the roll out of the Blue Room at SRCI, Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution (EOCI) has also led a team to implement their first Blue Room. Lieutenant Jason Duchek works with EOCI’s team, which includes; security, BHS, and the physical plant. The Blue Room will be in operation by July 1, 2018.

By September 2018 SRCI will have a Blue Room in five indoor recreation rooms in IMU, three in indoor recreation rooms in DSU, and one Blue Room in the Administrative Segregation Unit. We will have a total of nine Blue Rooms.

Individuals can sign up to use the Blue Room once every two days or at officer discretion. Officers’ discretion (to deny or grant entry) is typically due to the following situations: inmate is in crisis, he/she received bad news, officer observed inmate pacing in cell or any other behavior the officer thinks is concerning. While all individuals incarcerated in the DSU will be allowed access to the Blue Room, EOCI protocol will give priority to individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

The Behavioral Health Unit at the Oregon State Penitentiary (OSP) completed their version of the Blue Room in May 2018. The only training that was required for each institution was the education of security and security-plus staff on the protocols of using the Blue Room.

The Solution

The Blue Room’s targeted population is individuals who are incarcerated in special housing. The first Blue Room at SRCI was in a unit that housed primarily individuals with a mental health code. EOCI’s Blue Room will target all incarcerated people in the facility, with priority given to those with mental health and intellectual functioning concerns.

Utilizing the Blue Room provides a minimum of 2.33 hours out-of-cell time per week at SRCI. The hours at OSP and EOCI will be dependent on staff discretion.

The Results

The research conducted at SRCI found the Blue Room to be a useful intervention. An SRCI correctional officer stated that he was, “skeptical of how effective the Blue Room would be, but within a few weeks I realized how useful it is”. He further commented that a “refocus of their aggression has prevented several situations that can place staff and inmates alike at risk”. One correctional officer stated that individuals look forward to going to the Blue Room. In 2014 Time Magazine listed the Blue Room as the Top 25 Innovations of the Year. Individuals have reported it helps them regulate their moods and when they leave the room they feel calmer and it helps them sleep. Others have reported the Blue Room brings back positive memories of a vacation with family on the coast or places they may want to go when they are released.

Lessons Learned

The lessons we have learned is to make sure to have back-up remote controls for the equipment and back-up light bulbs. When the in-focus machine goes down then individuals miss going to watch the videos. We also learned to transition the videos at least yearly. The most important lesson to learn on this project was this needs to be security-driven and supported by the staff working the floors. We heard clearly from Dr. Nadkarni why the Blue Room failed in another state because it was supported by higher-level staff who did not work to secure buy-in from staff charged with implementation. To mitigate this issue, we initiated our Blue Room with staff engagement of officers as well as other security-plus staff. Additionally, make sure you have a decent sound system. Sound is just as important as the videos.

Related Documents

This Promising Practices section of the SAS Resource Center was developed as part of a collaborative effort with the Vera Institute of Justice, University of Michigan Law School, and Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights. We are also deeply grateful to the many leaders across the country who created and implemented each of the reforms cited throughout this section for their efforts to reduce the use of restrictive housing in prisons and jails across the country.

Please note that Vera and our partners do not specifically endorse the practices and policies included in this section. The Promising Practices section features segregation reforms being implemented in prisons and jails around the country. Our goal is to serve as a resource to other jail and prison systems interested in implementing similar practices and policies by highlighting those jurisdictions that report successful reforms.