Students lead victim impact program for inmates
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Twenty-seven criminal justice and forensic investigation students from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville recently facilitated three sessions of victim impact programming for more than 45 inmates at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. The students are enrolled in the Victimology and Restorative Justice course, taught by Dr. Amy Nemmetz, assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Platteville.
Restorative justice – a theory of justice that emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior – 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.
Session One, March 30:
At the first session on March 30, students and faculty members gave inmates an overview of restorative justice, citing statistics from a study that showed that offenders who participated in the restorative justice program had lower recidivism rates than the matched group of probationers. The students noted that in the study, the differences in recidivism rates for the two groups widened each year during the follow-up. The first year, restorative justice offenders had a recidivism rate of 15 percent compared to 38 percent for the probation group. The second year, the respective rates were 28 percent and 54 percent. The third year, the rates were 35 percent and 66 percent.
Following, students and inmates listened to a victim share about losing her son to a drunk driver, including the many ways she had been victimized following his death – through testifying, the lack of restitution and the pain and emptiness she feels without him. Students and inmates then broke into small groups and the students led exercises that encouraged inmates to think about how their crimes had impacted others and the importance of taking responsibility for their actions.
Session 2, April 8:
At the second session on April 8, students led activities that addressed how people’s actions affect their lives and the lives of others, including those they love. Inmates then took a true-false quiz about restorative justice and watched a video about Jacque Saburido, a young woman who had taken a break from college and travelled to the United States to study English. She had been in Texas less than a month when she was critically injured in a car crash that changed her life forever. Her story exposes the painful consequences of a young man’s decision to drink and drive. View the video online.
Students and inmates discussed the video and then inmates shared how alcohol or drugs had affected their lives or the lives of someone they loved. Following, the students explained and held group discussions on intimate partner violence and domestic violence. Toward the end of the session, inmates completed a past/present/future activity in which they wrote down how they would describe themselves before they came to prison, the steps they are taking now to positively affect their future and what they hope to accomplish after they are released.
Session 3, April 25:
During the third session on April 25, students and inmates discussed property crimes, escalation of crimes and how to give back to the community. Following, they watched a video about the power of restorative justice and an unlikely friendship between Jackie Millar, a woman from Wisconsin, and Craig Sussek, who shot and critically injured Millar as he and a friend tried to steal her car. View the video online.
Following the video, the inmates split into two large groups. Each group completed a set of activities, then the groups switched.
In one group, students and inmates discussed the video and how Millar’s and Sussek’s actions after the crime related to restorative justice, forgiveness and healing. Inmates also completed an activity that helped them see how easily crimes can escalate and spin out of control.
In the other group, inmates and students made fleece tie blankets together. While they made the blankets, students encouraged inmates to talk about the types of hardships victims at domestic abuse shelters experience, why children in foster care can be considered victims and why children in juvenile group homes can be considered victims of the system. When the project was finished, the inmates voted to give the 30 blankets they had made to three victim groups: children at risk or in foster care, victims of intimate partner violence and their children and juveniles residing in a group home setting.
Students participating in the victim impact programs included: Cassidy Babcock, Parker Banghart, Deanna Bingham, Amelia Bormann, Tucker Code, Brooke Courtney, Aaron Galindo, Henry Karlzon, Martin McClure, Melanie Minervini, Joseph Nelson, Megan Okane, Brooke Posey, Kali Reiman, Payden Salm, Ashley Seefeldt, Isaac Smith, Kailyn Teeter, Calen Terry, Gina Thul, Lydianne Trush, Jordan Williams, Katelyn Winther, Brooke Yokiel, Levi Zacharyasz and Lindsey Zettle.
“My biggest take away from our class trip to the prison was how interactive the inmates were and how much they really want to get the help they need,” said Galindo, a senior criminal justice major from Sparta, Wisconsin, who wants to be a police officer. “It was interesting to see and hear their stories and how much their lives in prison have affected not just their lives but also the lives of their friends and families.”
“This collaboration encourages experiential learning at its best,” said Lisa Pettera, program supervisor at Prairie du Chien Correctional Institution. “Students take what they’re learning in the classroom and put it into practice. Criminal thinking includes a failure to see other perspectives and these discussion groups encourage inmates to broaden their understanding of the impact of their crimes. It’s a unique opportunity for them to grow and to consider how they can take responsibility for their actions and return to their communities as participants rather than periphery. I see signs of that growth in conversation with inmates after each program that we do. Inmates tell me it is the most worthwhile program they have ever participated in and other inmates are already asking to participate in the next program.”
“Talking about the value of restorative justice in the classroom is one thing,” said Nemmetz. “Facilitating restorative justice activities with offenders in a correctional institution is another, and can be a life changing experience for the students. Many students note that working with the inmates led to them to think about a position in the field of corrections in lieu of law enforcement because they want to help offenders make better decisions in the future.”
“Participating in the restorative justice program at PDCI has truly impacted me in a positive way,” said Babcock, a sophomore criminal justice major at UW-Platteville from Hudson, Wisconsin. “It has been truly eye-opening to see that criminals can change and work to repair the harm they have caused. I enjoyed working with the inmates through this program and it has made me realize that this is something that I would like to continue doing as a career. It has been a blessing to be a part of something that makes such a positive impact on inmates, victims and the community.”
As UW-Platteville pursues its vision of being recognized as the leading student-focused university for its success in achieving excellence, creating opportunities, and empowering each individual, it is guided by four strategic planning priorities. The victim impact programming aligns with the priorities of providing an outstanding education, fostering a community of achievement and respect, and enriching the tri-states.
Written by: Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education, 608-342-6191, firstname.lastname@example.org