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New Prison Chief Makes History

Named first black woman to run a prison

7/23/2019, 4 p.m.
Nichole Brown, a state Department of Corrections official with more than 20 years of experience was named Monday as the ...
Nichole Brown

Nichole Brown, a state Department of Corrections official with more than 20 years of experience was named Monday as the new superintendent of the Columbia River Correctional Institution in Portland, the first African American woman to run a prison in the state of Oregon. The appointment is effective Aug. 1.

When asked to reflect on what it means to be the first black woman to run a prison in the state, Brown acknowledged that law enforcement and the African American community, traditionally, have not always had a good relationship.

“My decision to apply for the position was easy, as I know the leadership of the agency has made a commitment to diversify the workforce with highly trained staff and to normalize and humanize the corrections setting,” she said. “I bring a diverse perspective – not only in ethnicity and culture – but diversity of opinion, thoughts and abilities. I will be a role model to staff and to adults in custody showing that our diversity can be our greatest strength as we share and grow with one another as corrections professionals.”

Brown started her career in 1997 at the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City in the inmate work programs section. From 2004 to 2012, she served as the workforce development administrator responsible for education training and alcohol and drug treatment programs. She currently oversees programs and social support services within the Correctional Services Division which includes inmate services, volunteer services, victim services and family advocacy.

Brown grew up and attended school in northeast Portland. She earned her degree in planning public policy and management from the University of Oregon in Eugene.

“Nichole is a strong-minded thoughtful leader with heart and passion for our work, and I am confident she will serve our agency well in her new role. She brings a love of people, meaningful community partnerships, and a fundamental belief that people can change when given the opportunity and motivation,” said Colette S. Peters, director of the Oregon Department of Corrections, and the state official who announced Brown’s selection. “As the first woman director of ODOC, I am proud to have the first African American woman selected as superintendent on my watch.”

The Columbia River Correctional Institution is a minimum-security prison that houses approximately 595 adults in custody who are within four years of release. The facility is focused on cognitive programming, work programs, and preparing inmates for return to the community.

Brown also will supervise the South Fork Forest Camp, a minimum-security work camp that houses about 200 adults in custody.

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that Nichole Brown is the first African American woman to run a state prison in Oregon, not the first African American ever to serve in this role.