Posted Oct. 20, 2011
Reported by Emily Williams
Students in Associate Professor Schnavia Smith Hatcher’s forensic social work class prepared a half-day workshop for Athens-area probationers last spring, providing information on how the probationer’s social environment impacts their lives in Athens and resources to help them make better decisions in the future.
“In this particular case, we were talking to people who had been in jail and discussing how the biological, the psychological and the social/community factors impact their decisions,” Hatcher said.
For the first half of the semester students learned about clinical techniques and interventions in working with those who have been incarcerated. The second part of the semester, they conducted a needs assessment at the Athens Day Reporting Center, which provides services such as substance abuse counseling, cognitive restructuring, adult basic education, employment enhancement, intensive supervision, and other treatment to individuals who have been sentenced by the courts in the State of Georgia.
“The students immediately said, ‘let’s do a workshop instead of doing a presentation.’ They wanted to have an interactive workshop with the clients there,” Hatcher explained.
Using their findings from the needs assessment, the students developed a workshop, which focused on the social environment and how it may impact an individual’s decisions or actions. The goal was to provide solutions to stop the cycle of recidivism. The students developed tips, facts, games and role play scenarios to help participants think about their social environment, such as their friends, family or coworkers and places they frequent, such as housing, work environment and recreational facilities, and how it can impact their decisions and actions in positive and negative ways.
“We were not expecting as much participation as we got,” Hatcher said. “They really got into it.”
Participants played Jeopardy for community service points and acted out several social environment situations from their own lives to demonstrate familiar negative activities that might occur and how these negative activities can influence criminal behavior.
“They asked when we were coming back,” Hatcher quipped. “They were surprised to see that other people were concerned about them and wanted to come and help them. In a sense it helped them feel like a citizen and feel that people actually did want to see them be successful.”
Not only was it beneficial for the probationers, the students also got a lot out of it, Hatcher explained. The students were able to apply the skills they discussed in the first part of the semester all while making a positive impact on the community. “It was quite a significant experience for them,” she said.
Hatcher enjoys teaching the class because it gives social workers another practice option once they enter the work force.
“As social workers we’re trained and we are prepared to provide services for those in need,” she said. “We as professionals don’t automatically think, ‘let’s go provide services for those who are incarcerated or those who are affiliated with the judicial system’.”
The Athens Day Reporting Center is one of 13 centers throughout the state of Georgia. Offenders who are assigned to the program must be employed after their initial orientation and assessment.