ISU Criminology students simulate offenders reentering society

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Indiana Statesman on March 30, 2017 by Ashton Hensley, Reporter

Criminology majors participated in a simulation called Re-entry Correctional Simulation in which they had to assume the role of an offender going through the first month of reentering society after being incarcerated.

The event was held Thursday in Dede II of the Hulman Memorial Student Union. Mary Ellen Doucette-Lunstrum, an instructor in the criminology department, brought the simulation to Indiana State University.

“I retired from the BOP and know these individuals from my past employment,” Doucette-Lunstrum said. “They conduct similar exercises elsewhere. I was contacted by one of them last year and asked if this was something we would like to do.”

Re-entry Affairs Coordinators from the Federal Bureau of Prisons Anissa Williams and Leanna Payton hosted the event.

“The program began in Springfield, Missouri and was brought here after Leanna heard about it at a conference,” Williams said. “Now we do simulations for students, professionals already in the field and actual offenders.”

The simulation involved 12 stations that had services such as transportation, drug testing, probation officers and employers that participants had to visit.

“We simulate the first month of re-entry by having 15-minute rounds that represent one week,” Williams said. “Each person will have a specific set of tasks they must perform for each week.”

The participants all started out with different resources, some had no money, jobs or even identification cards, showing the realities of what it is like to reenter society after being in prison.

Tiara Cross, a senior criminology major and psychology minor, explained before the simulation began that she hoped to gain some perspective by participating.

“I want to see how offenders feel,” Cross said. “I hope to find out if the process of reentering society is a smooth transition or if there are obstacles.”

Shannon Barton, a criminal justice professor, explained that she hopes her students who participated see what the process is really like.

“I want my students to better understand what it means for people to reenter society and how quick society is to put them back into jail after their release,” Barton said.

Over 60 students participated, some running the stations and the rest taking roles of offenders. In the first week of the simulation, most students had to go to the ID station before anything else. Not one of the offenders was able to complete all of their tasks in week one.

“I think it will be challenging; you’re adjusting to a way of life and adapting to a new environment, especially if you’ve been in for a long time,” junior criminal justice major Kyle Erickson said before the simulation began.

Payton explained that this simulation went better than when they hosted it at ISU last semester.

“This time we saw much more communication,” Payton said. “Last time students were not asking for help or talking to each other because they did not want to admit they had messed up.”

Abby Middleton, a junior criminology major, and Evan Tislow, a graduate criminology major, were two of the first students who ended up back in jail during the simulation.

“I failed the drug test I had to take for my probation officer,” Tislow said.

Students could not leave jail unless they or someone else bailed them out. By the end of the simulation, most of the participants were back in jail.

“We really wanted students to see that 60 percent of people return to jail within three weeks of being released,” Williams said.

Payton said that she hopes that by doing the simulation with students at this level, they will be prepared to take the place of employees like herself with the mindset of re-entry instead of sending offenders back to jail.

“We need to teach re-entering offenders how to be successful tax payers instead of teaching them how to be and remain inmates,” Payton said.