Lehigh Valley, PA – “Walk a mile in their shoes.” That’s the invitation which the Lehigh Valley Justice Institute (“LVJI”) is extending to local criminal justice policymakers as it hosts a “Re-Entry Simulation” on March 14th at Northampton Community College. The simulation gives participants the opportunity to try to navigate the challenges of re-entering society from jail.
LVJI Executive Director Joseph Welsh said that the simulation will give participants a new awareness of the day-to-day problems which residents of the two county jails experience as they attempt to return to their communities and tum their lives around. “Our hope is that local officials, and the general public, will gain a new understanding of the systemic challenges which people face returning to society” Welsh said.
Welsh is hopeful that such a deeper understanding will enable better decision making and reduce the number of former offenders who reoffend, known as recidivism. “What we at LVJI have found, is that when you strip away the
political buzzwords, and have honest conversations, the one thing just about everybody can agree upon is we need better outcomes from the justice system and need to reduce recidivism,” he continued.
The Re-Entry Simulation is going to be conducted by Franklin Together, the Re-Entry Coalition of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The group has produced the simulation in various venues, including last summer for the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. One of the participants at that event was Lehigh County Commissioner Bob Elbich, which led to LVJI hosting the event here. “Commissioner Elbich was so enthusiastic about this simulation that he encouraged us to bring Franklin Together here to conduct one for the Lehigh Valley,” Welsh explained.
LVJI will be inviting Lehigh Valley Common Pleas Judges, Magisterial District Judges, criminal justice related personnel, such as Probation/Parole, Pretrial Services, and Corrections, District Attorneys, Public Defenders, elected officials, and members of the news media to be participants. Once those seats are filled, the remaining seats will be offered to interested members of the general public. “We hope that our elected officials and court officers will avail themselves of this unique opportunity to get a taste of the challenges facing reentrants,” Welsh said.
The simulation works by seating participants in the middle of a large room. These seats represent their homes. They are then led through four weeks of re entry, each 15 minutes long. During these 15 minutes they have various tasks to perform, such as finding a job, obtaining ID, checking in with a probation officer, or attending substance abuse counseling, along with mundane chores such as grocery shopping. Just as in real life, while performing these chores, random events such as a flat tire or a bad urine screen can happen. Each participant is also given a card with details of their life. Many of the participant cards are based on real life scenarios seen by the Re-Entry Coalition.
Reactions from county officials statewide who have participated in the simulation include: “This is an awesome simulation”; “Thank you very much! This was incredibly enlightening”: “Great concept”; “Engaging simulation – induced more anxiety than anticipated but gained valuable insight”; and “I learned how very stressful daily tasks, that are normally taken for granted, are for someone with a criminal history.”
The event will take place on the afternoon of March 14t\ as part of NCC’s annual Peace & Justice Conference. The morning will feature an informal reception with LVJI staff, and, later, a panel discussion of LVJI’s research as part of the Cohen Lecture Series, an annual feature at the Conference. This year, the Conference is also part of a week of events commemorating the formal inauguration ofNCC’s new President, Dr. Eric Ruth.
In addition to participants, LVJI is recruiting volunteers to assist with the event. Anyone interested in the event is encouraged to contact LVJI via email: email@example.com or telephone 484.544.4125. More details will be posted on LVJI’s website www.LVJI.org closer to the event. LVJI is thankful to the faculty and staff of NCC for facilitating the event, and to Franklin Together for creating and conducting the simulation.
Information provided to TVL by:
Joseph E. Welsh
Lehigh Valley Justice Institute