The jail in Claremont, N.H., hadn’t thought of hiring an intern until Emily Weinberger ’15 called to ask whether she could work there over the summer.
The Sullivan County Department of Corrections’ superintendent told the Bowdoin first-year that he hadn’t had interns before, but was happy to have Weinberger help with an innovative rehabilitation program the jail launched two years ago.
“I’ve always been interested in criminal minds and the prison system,” Weinberger said, adding she’ll likely major in psychology next year. “It is so interesting to me to think about someone who’s in prison — what got them in there. No one commits a crime just because. What prompts someone to do that? What are the different aspects of people’s lives, family, education, and psychology that affects the decisions people make?”
The superintendent assigned Weinberger to work with the jail’s rehab program, TRAILS, short for Transitional Re-entry and Inmate Life Skills. Weinberger describes it as a cognitive-behavioral treatment program for minimum-security inmates, one of the first of its kind for a jail.
To support her summer internship, Weinberger received a grant from Bowdoin’s Preston Public Interest Career Fund, which funds students who intern for organizations helping the disadvantaged and underserved. She is also from Sunapee, N.H., close to the jail.
So far this summer, Weinberger has been assisting mental health clinicians who are working with both male and female inmates, ages 19 to the mid-60s, to teach them drug and alcohol education, stress management, problem solving, job readiness, parenting skills and other strategies that will help them integrate back into the community.
Weinberger is also volunteering to teach the inmates, both men and women, beginning Spanish, incorporating some of the emotional lessons they’ve already learned. ”We started with the alphabet, and how are you, and how are you feeling,” she said. And she is assisting with the jail’s family program, which invites children in to the jail to play games and do other activities with incarcerated parents.
She says she’s witnessed the TRAILS sessions making tangible changes on some of the inmates. “I’ve seen a couple of the guys come in, and they say, ‘This is stupid. The second I get out, I’m going to be using again.’ But in a couple of weeks, they’ve admitted they’re addicts, and they’re really honest, they’re accepting and looking at themselves.”
Because the program is relatively new, there is little data on the participants’ rates of recidivism, Weinberger explained. But preliminary numbers show that recidivism is substantially lower than those of other county jails without similar programming, according to Weinberger.
Weinberger says her internship, which she calls the most interesting experience she’s ever had, has solidified her desire to pursue a career working with the criminal population. “I really like the hands-on, face-to-face interactions because I’m getting so much from that,” she said.
Jane Coplan, the jail’s program director, says Weinberger comes in “like a ray of sunshine” in what can be a negative place. She said she has observed Weinberger’s enthusiasm and bright outlook positively affecting the inmates, particularly the women. “It’s important for them to see a young college student who’s doing the right thing. She’s a role model. She can work one-on-one with them and plant a seed, and say, ‘Hey, you can do this, this is just a bump in the road.’”