Navigating Re-Entry After Incarceration: Student-Created Educational Campaign Launches in R.I. Probation and Parole Offices

A partnership between Roger Williams University and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections provides those on probation and parole with information on essential resources

By Jordan J. Phelan 鈥19
Communication Studies Professor Robert Cole and Morgan Felice, a senior Psychology major with a minor in Criminal Justice standing outside GHH
Communication Studies Professor Robert Cole and Morgan Felice, a senior Psychology major with a minor in Criminal Justice. Felice was one of 25 students in Cole's Communication Concepts course who created multimedia resources for the Rhode Island Department of Corrections that feature essential support services for individuals in probation and parole office waiting rooms.

BRISTOL, R.I. 鈥 In today's interconnected world, effective communication serves as a bridge that transcends cultural, geographical, and linguistic barriers to connect people to vital information and resources. This sentiment lies at the heart of a dynamic collaboration between Roger Williams University and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, in which 25 students from diverse disciplines created impactful multimedia resources about essential support services for individuals in probation and parole office waiting rooms throughout the Ocean State. 

The project was integrated into Communication Studies Professor Robert Cole鈥檚 COMM201: Communication Concepts course, which centers on social justice topics that bring a higher awareness of how students can use communication strategies and skills to contribute to productive change in the world.

The initiative started with Caitlin O鈥機onnor, Grants and Research Specialist in 澳门六合彩鈥檚 Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, who attended a 2015 mass incarceration symposium that catalyzed the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in Rhode Island. As part of JRI, O鈥機onnor, who was previously an economic and policy analyst in the RIDOC鈥檚 Planning & Research Unit, helped purchase TV monitors for probation and parole office waiting rooms. Last spring, recognizing an opportunity for collaboration, Lisa Blanchette, assistant administrator for RIDOC鈥檚 Probation and Parole Unit, partnered with O鈥機onnor to leverage the expertise and creativity of 澳门六合彩 scholars to develop innovative solutions for enhancing the probation and parole experience.

鈥淭his project highlights the successful partnership between state institutions and 澳门六合彩. The commitment and talent of Professor Cole and his students have been pivotal in bringing this project to fruition,鈥 O鈥機onnor said. 鈥淭his is a way for people to access information and services that they may not want to ask about.鈥

A PowerPoint slide with information about the Rhode Island Re-Entry Campus Program
One of the slides that students in Professor Robert Cole鈥檚 Communication Concepts course created with information about the Re-Entry Campus Program.

Cole's class, comprising sophomores, juniors, and seniors from a myriad of academic backgrounds, provided a rich tapestry of perspectives and skills. For the deliverable, they collectively determined that an educational video loop crafted from PowerPoint slides would best serve to provide clients with access to essential information and resources in an engaging and user-friendly manner. Divided into five teams, students assumed a variety of roles 鈥 from group managers and graphic designers to text editors and outreach coordinators 鈥 and worked in groups to research topics ranging from employment opportunities and mental health resources to housing assistance and substance abuse rehabilitation programs tailored to certain geographical areas of the state. The result: a comprehensive, continuous six-minute video loop of 30 carefully crafted slides that is reflective of the diverse needs and experiences of the target audience.

Students also developed editable slide templates and a comprehensive instruction manual, enabling RIDOC staff to customize the video loop according to the specific needs of each probation and parole office. These templates maintain a consistent look and feel across all presentations, ensuring coherence and effectiveness in communication. Furthermore, the class incorporated scannable QR codes into the slides, which enhances the accessibility for clients, allowing them to conveniently pull up support services directly from their smartphones without feeling inundated.

A PowerPoint slide with information about the Workforce Re-entry Initiative
One of the slides displayed in probation and parole office waiting rooms across R.I. featuring information about the Workforce Re-entry Initiative.

Wanting to cater to RIDOC鈥檚 diverse clientele, the slide deck was also translated into Spanish with the help of senior Melissa Avila, a Marketing Analytics major with a core concentration in Global Communications from Brooklyn. This thoughtful approach to each aspect of the project underscored the students' commitment to creating inclusive materials that would resonate with their intended viewers and facilitate meaningful communication.

Upon seeing the finished materials, RIDOC officials were not only impressed but also delighted to find that the students had exceeded expectations. 鈥淥ur entire team truly enjoyed this collaboration,鈥 said RIDOC Acting Director Wayne T. Salisbury Jr. 鈥淭he presentations look great on the monitors in our 10 offices throughout the state, and many of our clients are already using the content to learn about and gain access to services and assist in their rehabilitation.鈥

Students weren't the only ones who had a say in shaping the finished product. Throughout the semester, Cole鈥檚 class benefited from insights shared by guest speakers who ranged from individuals with firsthand experience navigating probation and parole to probation officers and even a technology specialist working within the corrections system who demonstrated how certain devices, including ankle bracelets, function. According to Cole, this was by design 鈥 he wanted to provide his students with experienced voices that could speak to the human aspect of probation and parole.

鈥淲hat do most people know about the corrections system? Nothing at all. So the idea is to humanize the subject,鈥 he said. 鈥淗earing from the guest speakers and having them interact with the students lifted the whole concept of probation and parole off of the pages of the dry textbook.鈥

A PowerPoint slide featuring information about Amos House in Providence
Another slide displays information about resources offered by Amos House in Providence, R.I.

For students like Avila, who served as a group leader, the guest speakers helped her cultivate empathy for others, a characteristic that she hopes to carry with her as she embarks on her professional career. 鈥淭he class taught me to be a lot more empathetic toward people. We tend to have these preconceived notions about people that have gone through the corrections system. In reality, there's so much more depth to it,鈥 said Avila, who graduated in December and currently works as an associate solutions engineer at Salesforce. 鈥淗aving the opportunity to speak to people with such experience and knowledge is really valuable and brings a lot of insight into the classroom.鈥

The project not only served as an opportunity for academic growth but also as a transformative experience for the students involved. Morgan Felice, a senior Psychology major with a minor in Criminal Justice and core concentration in Communications, described the assignment鈥檚 impact on her collegiate and professional journey as a turning point that solidified her career aspirations and commitment to making a positive difference in the criminal justice system. Now, Felice finds herself drawn to the inner workings of probation and parole, currently working in an internship with RIDOC鈥檚 Providence office as a result of the connections made during the project.

鈥淭he biggest thing that I learned from this class was what I wanted to do. I always had an idea that criminal justice was something that I really loved, but it wasn't until this class where I really felt like I was reaching out more toward my future,鈥 said Felice, a resident of Cumberland, R.I. 鈥淭his class was incredible, and without it, I don鈥檛 know if I would be where I am right now.鈥

A slide with information about the College Unbound program
The students' slide featuring information about the College Unbound program.

This was not lost on Cole, who said he could see a remarkable transformation occurring among his students as the project progressed. 鈥淚 saw students have a greater trust in themselves to self-organize, hold each other accountable, take feedback and collectively work toward an improved product. Students began to appreciate other skill sets and reflect on what they can bring to the group,鈥 he said. 鈥淎nd by the end of the class, everybody recognized that they did bring something and that it was a much better product because they contributed their part.鈥

As the video loops continue to roll out across probation and parole offices statewide, the impact of this collaboration extends far beyond the classroom, reaffirming 澳门六合彩's commitment to community engagement, experiential learning, and empowering students to affect meaningful change in society.

鈥淩oger Williams University is the type of institution that not just encourages these opportunities but has the infrastructure to support them,鈥 Cole said. 鈥淲e take a lot of pride in that, and so I鈥檓 hoping this project has opened the pathway for future partnerships.鈥