PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — More than 20 students from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently facilitated three sessions of victim impact programming with more than 70 inmates at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution in Prairie du Chien, Wis. The students were enrolled in the Victimology and Restorative Justice Special Topics course, taught by Dr. Amy Nemmetz, assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Platteville.
Restorative justice is a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior. It is accomplished through cooperative processes that include the victim, the offender, family members of the victim and the offender as well as members of the community. Through restorative justice programs, the voices of victims can be heard and offenders take responsibility for their actions while taking steps to repair the harm they caused.
At the first session, students and inmates listened to a victim share about losing her son to a drunk driver. She explained the ways she had been victimized following his death, including testifying, the lack of restitution and the recurring pain and emptiness she felt without him. Following, students led exercises that encouraged inmates to think about how their crimes had impacted others.
At the second session, the students and inmates watched a video clip from “A Cry for Help,” a movie based on a true story about Tracy Thurman, a woman who tried to escape an abusive marriage but was not adequately protected by the police, even after she had gotten a restraining order against her husband.
Following the video clip, they had small and large group discussions about the impact of power and control. Then, students guided activities and discussions about controlled substances, domestic violence and intimate partner violence. Inmates took a myth/fact quiz about drugs and alcohol and then wrote a paragraph explaining how drugs and alcohol had affected their lives.
At the third session, students and inmates made fleece tie blankets together. While they made the blankets, the students encouraged inmates to talk about their past, present and future life choices. When the project was finished, the inmates voted to give the 31 blankets they had made to children in foster care.
“Grant County Social Services was thrilled to receive the blankets,” said Nemmetz. “The social workers were so excited to surprise the children and families with the blankets during the holiday season.”
Inmates later finished an additional seven blankets on their own that were donated to Family Advocates, a nonprofit organization in Platteville, Wis., that provides services for victims of sexual assault and family/partner abuse.
"Having the opportunity to gain a full perspective – seeing the offender's side as well as the victim's side – was eye-opening and invaluable for [the students].” -Dr. Amy Nemmetz
“Restorative Justice is a regular topic of conversation between staff and inmates at PDCI,” said Lisa Pettera, program supervisor at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution. “We offer several programs that encourage inmates to acknowledge the harm they have done and consider how they can become better citizens when they are released and avoid future harm. November is Restorative Justice Month, so this collaboration with UW-Platteville was a perfect opportunity to emphasize that message with inmates and to educate future professionals with a real life application.”
“All students said they were extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in this project at the Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution,” said Nemmetz. “Hopefully, as they embark on careers in the next few years, they will see more restorative justice initiatives in the criminal justice field. Having the chance to facilitate activities and have meaningful conversations with offenders and victims has given them some of the experience they need to be strong professionals in their future jobs. Having the opportunity to gain a full perspective – seeing the offender's side as well as the victim's side – was eye-opening and invaluable for them.”
“It was really cool to see the inmates help a new inmate process his feelings of remorse,” said Stephanie Anderson, a senior criminal justice major from Scales Mound, Ill. “The new inmate made a comment about not knowing how to feel about what he had done. Other inmates in the group encouraged him to talk about what he had done and how his actions had affected others.”
“It was great to see so many inmates show an interest in acknowledging their choices and processing what steps would be needed to earn back the trust they had lost with their families and communities,” said Joseph Dreis, a senior criminal justice major from Mazomanie, Wis.
The program at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution was made possible with the support of the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, a UW-Platteville initiative and funding source for campus-wide coordination, integration and leadership of community-based scholarship of engagement projects and internships that involve students, faculty, staff and community partners.
The program was also made possible with the assistance of Robin Cline, director of the Ridge and Valley Restorative Justice Program. The program works with victims, offenders and community members in Crawford, Grant, Vernon and other area counties to provide support and facilitate services that promote healing and reconciliation.
Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org