Inslee names Cheryl Strange new Department of Corrections secretary

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Gov. Jay Inslee today named Cheryl Strange secretary of Washington’s Department of Corrections (DOC). She replaces Steve Sinclair who announced his retirement in January. Strange will be the department’s first female secretary.

Strange is currently secretary of the state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the state’s largest human service agency, where she was appointed to the position by Inslee in 2017. She is a respected and proven leader who has cultivated a humane, progressive and equitable institutional culture. Julie Martin will be the acting DOC secretary until Strange begins May 15. Don Clintsman will be the acting DSHS secretary, with a national recruitment underway.

Strange has dedicated her life to public service, serving more than 40 years in government, non-profit or labor organizations, holding leadership positions in those organizations for over half of that time. She enters the role familiar with DOC, where she served as DOC deputy secretary from 2008 to 2011. She has also served as vice president for Pioneer Human Services where she worked on the important issues of reentry, work release, and behavioral health. Prior to serving as DSHS secretary, she served as CEO of Western State Hospital, and director of Health Benefits Trust for SEIU 775.

“I didn’t have to look far to know 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 into its new future. She is a forward facing leader, innovator and change agent and I know she will bring a vision and lifetime of proven leadership to DOC,” Inslee said. “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 has been instrumental in leading our behavioral health transformation initiative within DSHS and has been a crucial part of our state’s leadership in my cabinet. I not only thank Cheryl for her leadership in DSHS, I thank her for what I know she will do at DOC to advance their mission.”

Thanks to her leadership at DSHS, in tandem with the Office of the Governor and Legislature, the state is building a modern, safer, smaller state hospital, as well as several local behavioral health facilities to ensure Washingtonians in need of hospitalization and care can be served in their community close to home, family and loved ones. The changes improve both patients’ quality of care and chance of recovery, and point toward additional future advances to be taken in behavioral health transformation by the state’s health sub-cabinet.

“It has been an honor and privilege for me to work for Governor Inslee the past four years and lead an agency that helps more than 2.4 million Washingtonians each year,” Strange said. “What DSHS staff do every day to transform the lives of so many is nothing short of extraordinary. I now look forward to working with a team of individuals at Corrections who are highly committed to improving public safety and positively changing the lives of those in their custody and ultimately make for a better Washington.

"It is a tremendously rewarding challenge that lies ahead, particularly with the emphasis on re-entry by incarcerated individuals and the needed focus of equity and racial justice in our correctional system. It is also a noble cause and I truly appreciate the governor’s confidence as I take on this new role.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Strange lead the response in the state’s long-term care programs. She worked to ensure care for 75,000 older Washingtonians receiving services in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the 60,000 people receiving services in their own homes, as well as caring for the 6,000 staff and 3,000 residents in our state-run facilities.

“DSHS is a stronger agency now than when Cheryl started and they have a lot of smart, talented and compassionate people working on behalf of some of our most vulnerable Washingtonians,” Inslee said.

“I thank Steve for his service and wish him the best in his next chapter. I am confident that Cheryl and the DOC leadership team will continue to build on the improvements and changes that Steve instituted at DOC.”

Strange earned her bachelor’s from the Evergreen State College, her Master of Public Administration from Seattle University, and completed the executive management program at the Evans School at the University of Washington.

Photo of Cheryl Strange

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