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St. Anthony woman helps design re-entry program to increase inmate release success

Kelsie Rumsey | Courtesy University of Idaho
ST. ANTHONY — Most students don’t get locked behind metal doors when entering their classroom. For Kelsie Rumsey, it’s just another day of college.
As a third-year sociology and criminology student, Rumsey participated in a Department of Sociology and Anthropology program called Inside Out in which she visited the Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino every week. There, Rumsey interacted and worked with inmates.
“I see these individuals, and I am with everyday people,” the 21-year-old St. Anthony native said. “They are not necessarily the monsters that we have painted them to be throughout the media and the public eye.”
Through her experience with Inside Out, Rumsey became interested in prison reform. In Idaho, recidivism rates — the tendency of criminals to re-offend — are some of the highest in the nation. Rumsey thinks improvements to pre-release education, or information provided to inmates before their release to decrease recidivism rates, are needed.
As part of a student research project, Rumsey found that the current program for reentry requires individuals to read booklets and take quizzes. It’s something Rumsey said is not providing the inmates the skills necessary for them to function outside of prison.
In 2018, Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC), the Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino and University of Idaho Extension collaborated to design a new two-part reentry program. Working with U of I Extension, Rumsey is helping to facilitate the launch of the new program under Assistant Professor Omi Hodwitz in the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS).
“This new program is built on more of a hands-on learning experience, where the inmates will be guided through every step,” Rumsey said. She added that previous research has shown that the more hands-on the lesson is the more likely the inmate will succeed.
The first stage of the program teaches inmates “soft skills” through videos and activities. Inmates learn how to get a job, find housing and build relationships outside of prison. The inmates then move to the next stage, learning “hard skills,” or hands-on, practical skills they can use to pursue a degree from LCSC.
As part of her role in the program, Rumsey has built five surveys to evaluate how prepared inmates feel to reenter society. The surveys will be given to inmates who’ve been released through the current process, inmates helping form the new program and, eventually, inmates who will take part in the finished program.
After implementing the new design and analyzing the survey results, Rumsey and her collaborators will conduct follow-up interviews on the program’s effectiveness and track whether recidivism rates have decreased.
“The people inside these institutions are still people,” Rumsey said. “And we can’t expect them to change if we are not giving them the keys to do so.”
Her work in creating this collaborative program has inspired Rumsey to take her passion for prison reform further. After receiving her undergraduate degree from CLASS, Rumsey plans to attend graduate school, focusing on prison reform.

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