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Westminster College Sociology/Criminal Justice Major Receives PennACE Award

Posted on Monday, January 13, 2014

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. - Westminster College senior sociology/criminal justice major Tricia Johnston recently received the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Employers (PennACE) JoAnne Day Student of the Year Liberal Arts Award.

Johnston was nominated for and won the award based on her internship at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections State Correctional Institution (SCI) at Cambridge Springs during the summer of 2013. The SCI-Cambridge is a minimum-security prison that is one of only two female prisons in Pennsylvania.

It is also the only prison in Pennsylvania that has a re-entry program and it is the only prison in the country in which the program is managed by inmates. The program prepares and teaches inmates life skills, so that they are far less likely to recidivate and return to prison. It consists of 10 classes spanning over a two-week period for each group and focuses on areas such as building resumes, teaching interview techniques, anger management, and developing a positive attitude. As the inmates learn these skills they devise what is called a "freedom plan" that they can show the parole board at their hearing. This program hasn't had anyone recidivate since its inception a year ago.

Johnston was in charge of choosing inmates for each class, conducting the class on a daily basis, building resumes, teaching interview techniques, writing letters of recommendation, among other responsibilities. She also constructed a handout on ways to handle emotional stress, deal with anger and develop a positive attitude, and initiated a class module on using the power of positivity. Additionally, she supervised three inmates directly who served as her assistants.

"I am extremely honored to receive the award," said Johnston. "My internship gave me the opportunity to work with a phenomenal group of people who impacted my life just as much, if not more, than I did theirs."

Johnston was nominated for the award by Dr. Kristenne Robison, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice studies.

"It is not your typical college student who chooses to spend their summer interning at a women's prison," Robison said. "I nominated Tricia because I think she made an impact on the women and she is using this experience to catapult herself into a doctoral program where she can continue to learn more about prison policy."

Robison continued, "When I nominated Tricia for this award I fully expected her to win it. While Tricia is truly deserving of this award, I think she shares this award with the women of SCI-Cambridge Springs. Tricia took away as much from the experience as she gave to it. Tricia is an exemplary Westminster College student. It was an honor to nominate her."

Johnston will attend the annual PennACE Conference in May in the Poconos to accept her award.

Johnston is a daughter of Korryn Berlin of Tionesta and a graduate of West Forest High School.

Contact Robison at 724-946-6033 or email for additional information.

Tricia Johnston