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39 UNK students spend a night in new jail
Josh Moody
Antelope Staff
Photo by Josh Moody
Corrections officer C.P. Jarmin locks junior journalism and political science major Erik Dodge from Valley in a holding cell. Dodge was one of about 39 students that volunteered to be an inmate.

Spending time in jail can be a nerve-wracking but educational experience.

A recorded 39 UNK students volunteered to spend some time behind bars on Friday Feb. 26. The inmate experience began with a mug shot. From there they were walked to a small room with a glass window, a Buffalo County deputy on the other side. The deputies interviewed students, asking them basic questions related to medical conditions, criminal charges and cooperation, and emergency contact information. The officers then inventoried property such as clothing and personal items. The property was bagged and marked and students were then dressed out in Buffalo County orange.

Once properly attired they were led to their cell blocks.

Sophomore criminal justice major Austin Taylor of Oakland, Iowa, volunteered to be an inmate for extra credit in several of his criminal justice classes and to add relevance to what he has already learned in class. “I would just like to see how everything works and to see if it would be something I’m interested in doing one day,” Taylor said.

The project came together when Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller and Deputy Tony Paulsen began thinking of ways to orient their staff into the new facility. The Buffalo County Sheriff’s office then contacted UNK criminal justice professor Dr. Kurt Siedschlaw asking for student volunteer inmates.

Miller said that the strong relationship between the UNK criminal justice department and Buffalo County law enforcement allowed for a unique training opportunity. “With UNK students we have friendly faces who will help us,” Miller said. “They’re helping us to learn our jail and how it’s going to run.”

“We have to know this facility inside and out and know how we’re going to run this before we move the inmates over from the old facility,” Miller said. “We also have to keep running the old facility while we’re learning the new facility.”

The training was a chance for law enforcement to master the new technology driving the jail. Miller explained that vast advances in electronic security measures are the main differences between the old detention center constructed in 1959 and the new facility.

Siedschlaw recruited students interested in expanding their knowledge of how the county jail system works. “It will give them the opportunity to see the jail, the physical set up, and it will give them a sense of what an inmate deals with and how the staff works,” Siedschlaw said. “I hope it increases their knowledge about the function of county jails, and to know that the people in there are people.”

The majority of student volunteers are looking at careers in criminal justice. Evan Barkley an undecided freshman from Grant felt that the inmate experience would help him decide what he wanted to pursue academically and as a career. “I’m considering criminal justice and I thought this would be a good way to find out more about what it would be like to be a police officer or a corrections officer.”

Siedschlaw said that the general public is often unaware of the way the county jail system works. “The average citizen doesn’t know the responsibilities of correctional officers or the dynamics of trying to house people in a confined setting where the county is responsible for everything.”

 

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