I was honored to receive the Judy E. Hall, Ph.D., Early Career Psychologist Award in 2012 and am now glad to have the opportunity to reflect upon the work I did over the past year.
I am using the ECP award funds to increase the visibility of psychological and other services to individuals who are reentering society following a prison sentence. My goal, with the assistance of the students, was to create a website to help these returning citizens and their loved ones. I have accomplished the goal of establishing the website, though realize that there is much more work to do.
This website is an important project that I would not have been able to accomplish had it not been for the support and generosity of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists. Although there are many reentry websites for professionals, this website teaches returning citizens and their loved ones about research-based information to promote successful transitions from prison to society.
Questions from family members who read about my research on returning citizens led to the development of this idea. These family members shared that they were struggling to find needed information and help. Populations of returning citizens and their loved ones often have limited access to resources, including qualified psychologists, so this website project endeavors to bridge that gap. The website is www.returningcitizens.net. The mission is “to provide returning citizens and their loved ones with online and local resources to seek mental health providers and social service programs that assist the process of reentry from prison to society.”
This website represents a learning project for psychology students. Therefore, my first step in designing this experience was to recruit students. Next, I had to develop educational materials, design the assessments and gain institutional review board approval of the project, and of course, plan ways that students could assist with this project. So far, more than 20 students have participated which led to the information hosted on the website.
In this project, I faced several challenges. Often students who wish to assist find that their busy schedules do not permit them to do so. Additionally, the sheer number of resources available across the country takes time to identify and organize. Because resources are constantly changing, this project will always be a work in progress. The positive part is that it will remain an endeavor of mine, and interested students will always have an opportunity to participate. Developing new resources as well as verifying and updating existing lists will always be needed.
Now that the website is online, and I am obtaining feedback from website visitors. In regards to the service learning component of this project, the anonymous feedback from participating students has been overwhelmingly positive (with 100% stating that they have learned more about available services and have enjoyed their experience). I am collecting anonymous pre and post assessments to measure if this experience helps them learn more about returning citizens. However, while many students have completed the pre-assessment, very few have completed the post-assessment. I will continue to pursue this outcome measure.
This website is an important project because it assists a large underserved population. This project is consistent with the National Register vision of improving access to resources that promote the health of communities. I have enjoyed working with students and giving them an opportunity to assist, and hope that this website will be helpful to returning citizens and their loved ones.
I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Dr. Hall and to everyone at the National Register of Health Service Psychologists.
Dr. Phillips is a licensed Psychologist in private practice in Pennsylvania and an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Albright College, where she teaches working adults in an undergraduate psychology program. She has been credentialed by the National Register since 2008.