UW-Platteville revisits restorative justice

The third annual University of Wisconsin-Platteville Restorative Justice conference was held on Monday, March 7. The all-day conference featured Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge as the keynote speakers. Smallridge killed Napier’s daughter Meagan and Meagan’s friend Lisa Dickson in a drunken driving accident. At the conference, Napier and Smallridge spoke together about the power of forgiveness.

The Criminal Justice Department held the first restorative justice conference in 2013 when Amy Nemmetz, assistant professor of criminal justice, returned to campus after completing her doctorate. At that time, a class called Victimology and Restorative Justice was only offered every few semesters. After Nemmetz’s first semester back, she was able to get the class offered every semester.

According to the course description of Victimology and Restorative Justice found on PASS, the course “focuses on the study of crime victims to include the nature, extent and causes of crime.” Additionally, the course description states that the course explores the principles of restorative justice and that students will “participate in restorative justice with a criminal justice organization.”

Nemmetz said she established a program which brings Victimology and Restorative Justice students to the Prairie Du Chien Correctional Institution. The students prepare different activities for the inmates to do. In the past, this has included making small blankets and donating them to an organization that the inmates agree on, Nemmetz said. The organizations may include a domestic violence protection house or drug treatment clinics, for example.

“The point of it all is getting the inmate to understand what they did to a victim, the emotional toll they can put one someone,” Nemmetz said.

Students in the victimology class also held gardening sessions with the PDCI inmates. During the sessions, students compare the plants and the victims of the inmates, Nemmetz said. They compare the weeds that can kill a plant to the “weeds” that lead an inmate in the wrong direction. They also compare the negativity that has gotten the inmate to the point they are at now, to how the plants can or cannot grow.

“The inmates have really responded to us in the last few years,” Nemmetz said. “It’s great to see the students really helping each inmate and taking a personal interest in their well-being.”

According to the correctional institution’s website, the PDCI is a medium-security institution for adult male inmates. The institution’s vision, according to the website, is “to protect the public…provide opportunities for positive change and success…and to partner and collaborate with community service providers and other criminal justice entities.”

There are no programs on the UW-Platteville campus that are specifically designated as restorative justice programs. However, there are programs available that can help students in a similar way.

Campus Police Officer Kirk Osbourne said he works with Jason Artz of UW-Platteville Counseling Services with a program that helps students who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. Osbourne said he has also helped with the Fresh Start program on campus. Fresh Start focuses on stopping underage drinking by giving the person a chance to get the underage citation taken off of their record if they agree to take a class through the university.

“[Artz] and I work together on an [alcohol and other drug abuse] class for students that have a drug problem. I give more of a police view of what can really go wrong and who they are hurting,” Osbourne said.

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