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UW-Eau Claire nursing students raise awareness to the challenges people face after incarceration

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Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 7:48 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - UWEC assistant nursing professor, Pamela Guthman and her students have been working on “Returning to the Community: A Quality Improvement Project” for over three semesters. The idea behind this is to bring awareness to the challenges people face after incarceration when trying to get back in the community.

“The approach that I really wanted to take was to work in collaboration with people who have experienced incarceration,” Guthman said. ”Like EXPO and also the Department of Human Services and to really kind of put a public health spin on it and what we can do for prevention”

The project has worked with Ex Incarcerated People Organizing (EXPO), Eau Claire Human Services Department, Chippewa Valley Justice Action Team and FREE Reclaiming Women’s Freedom of the Chippewa Valley. In collaboration with these organization, the nursing students were able to meet people who are working on getting back on their feet and learning about their experiences.

Data was collected through interviews asking people about their experiences in the past, present and what they are looking for in the future. Questions are asked about what kind of things led to incarceration and to think about preventative measures to help someone else in a similar situation possibly avoid being arrested.

“We really focus on those pieces of working with the population that we could help to address whether it’s housing issues, whether it’s that they haven’t had access to food that’s good quality,” Guthman said. “Is it wages, are they in actually in positions that will help them become more self-sufficient and successful”

Guthman wanted this to an experience that would make her students better nurses when they get into the field.

“I really want nursing students to see what it’s like to work on a ground level and to continue to raise awareness,” Guthman said. “They are going to be a better nurses in understanding the population if they’ve had this type of experience.”

Emily Webster is a recent nursing graduate from UWEC. She believes this project has given her a new outlook.

“It really opened my eyes to things happening right in the community that may people don’t see,” Webster said.

Webster doesn’t haver nursing license yet, but before she graduated she did some clinical work and was able to see what she learned from this project put into action in real life.

“I worked in a behavioral health unit with a lot of patients that experienced similar problems and it was really cool to connect what I learned during Pam’s project to my next clinical experience,” Webster said.

In addition to helping previously incarcerated people, there was another goal.

“To reduce the stigma and bias in nurse practitioner and in the general public as well,” Webster said.

Guthman and her students hope the data collected in this project could one day be used to improve resources and create better systems to help people are trying to make positive steps in their life after jail or prison.

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