Pi Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma: Bi-Partisan Criminal Justice Reform Panel
The Pi Omicron Chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma held our first event at University of Lynchburg on Wednesday March 23, 2016 from 6-8pm. The event was a Bi-Partisan Criminal Justice Reform discussion by a panel of local criminal justice professionals. The professionals included the Director of Probation, Robert Wade, the Administrator of Blue Ridge Regional Jail, Timothy Trent, Lynchburg Chief of Police, Raul Diaz, and the Deputy Commonwealth Attorney, Bethany Harrison. The event was open to all Criminology students and faculty members.
The event was kicked off by our President, Elizabeth LaBelle, who introduced Alpha Phi Sigma as an organization and the executive committee in attendance. Elizabeth then gave a brief explanation of what Bi-Partisan Criminal Justice Reform is defined as, in case any of the audience members were uninformed or unsure of the topic. Each executive member introduced a member of the panel, and then we allowed the panel members to take over. The members were asked to explain what their job responsibilities entail, their stance on Bi-Partisan Criminal Justice Reform, how it affects their job or field specifically, and what changes they would like to see implemented.
Robert Wade spoke about juveniles in the probation system. He explained that the current system is not doing a good job in acclimating juveniles after they leave detention centers. Juveniles are reentering the criminal justice system because they are unable to adjust to “normal” life. He expressed his belief that parents need to be more involved in the creation of a better home environment that is conducive to keeping children out of trouble. He suggested that getting parents more actively involved in the reentry program will help these juveniles stay out of the system and become productive members of our society once again.
Timothy Trent’s main point was the mental health epidemic that he deals with in the Blue Ridge Regional jails. He explained how there are high rates of mental illness in inmates, and how his staff is not well equipped to aid those inmates. Trent only has a few mental health professionals on staff, and they are remarkably outnumbered by the amount of inmates that need treatment. Trent wants to see mentally ill inmates admitted into specific hospitals, and not struggle to get better in within the jails.
Raul Diaz was very engaging and animated. The students who attended the panel raved about his energy and enthusiasm. Diaz is new to Lynchburg city, but brought with him innovative ideas to reconnect the community and criminal justice professionals. Diaz argued that there is a disconnect between the police and the public and that there needs to be an increase in the implementation of effective community policing techniques to mend the gap that is present.
Bethany Harrison was an advocate for a new bill that would allow child victims to not have to testify in front of an entire courtroom. In this bill, the child would testify and be questioned with only the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the judge, and a parent/social worker present. A closed-circuit video would be taken of this and streamed into the court room for the occupants to watch in live time. Harrison believes that this will help prevent the re-victimization of children in the courtroom, and lower the traumatic level of the experience. Many of her clients do not want to testify and will drop the case when they find out they have to, so she believes this will help the victim, while still maintaining the rights of the defendant.
Once all the professionals had their chance to speak, we opened up the floor for questions. The executive members had prepared questions to ask in case no students volunteered, but were surprised that none needed to be used! We eventually had to close the question segment of the forum, but encouraged students to come up to the professionals individually and discuss topics whilst enjoy the light refreshments and snacks provided. Overall, the event was a huge success with almost 50 students in attendance, and very well received. The executive board and our advisor were very pleased with the outcome and cannot wait to continue bringing events such as this to University of Lynchburg’s campus.