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UWSP student applies sociology learning to community corrections

in Community

STEVENS POINT — If someone sounds startled that Madalyne Fielder works with criminals, she’s quick to point out that criminals are people too.

Fielder is interning with the Portage County Justice Programs this summer and also works with residents of Portage House, a halfway house for adult offenders. Both jobs provide useful experience for her career aspirations in criminal justice. Her goal is to help people stay out of the corrections system.

“‘Criminal or felon’ has such negative connotations. I like busting perceptions. They’re people. They often have kids and wives,” Fielder said in a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point news release. “Many of them were abused as kids, had drug addictions and made bad decisions. A lot of them are great people.”

Fielder, a Stevens Point Area Senior High School graduate, became interested in this career path after a first-year seminar at UWSP introduced her to sociology by connecting cultural and social issues to science fiction, according to the news release. She declared sociology as her major with a criminal justice minor and plans to graduate from UWSP in May 2019, then pursue a master’s degree.

After three years of coursework, Fielder was ready “to take what I’ve learned and put it to work,” she said.

She is working with the Portage County Drug Court, a restorative justice program and alternative to the corrections system developed in April 2017.

It’s not an easy path, Fielder said. Each week, participants need to go through case management, attend alcohol and other drug abuse treatment, including possible drug testing to verify they have not re-offended and attend Drug Court for a progress report. If they remain in compliance, those present applaud the number of “clean” days. If they re-offend, they may be placed in a more restrictive phase.

Those involved in community corrections or alternative-to-jail sentencing programs know that the least restrictive environment is most likely to help the offender find a law-abiding, drug-free path forward, Fielder said. “Offenders do better when the stay in their community,” she said.

Fielder also is conducting a recidivism study for Portage County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Flugaur on people who re-offend in primarily alcohol-related crimes, such as operating while intoxicated.

Her study will provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of programs that target recidivism-related issues. “Our goal is to help the most people in the most effective way,” she said.

David Barry, assistant professor of sociology at UW-Stevens Point and sociology internship coordinator, said Fielder has been an exceptional intern.

“Fielder’s level of professionalism and work ethic is intense and palpable and has been noted by those at her site placement,” he said. “This, coupled with her sharp ability to bridge her applied sociological training to ‘real-world’ problems, has made her a model example for any UW-Stevens Point intern.”

In addition to Judge Flugaur, Fielder works most closely with Andrea Behnke, Portage County Justice Programs director.

Photo courtesy UW-Stevens Point. Caption: Maddy Fielder, a sociology major at UW-Stevens Point, is interning this summer with the Portage County Justice Programs.

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