The Lumberjack

Criminal Justice Dialogue

Criminal Justice Dialogue organizers and guest speakers posing for a photo. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Vrtiak.

By | Iridian Casarez

When Vanessa Vrtiak started volunteering at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility, she noticed that the inmates didn’t have many resources needed for success after release.

Vrtiak is a graduate sociology student at HSU. Vrtiak coordinated and organized the Criminal Justice Dialogue. The dialogue centered on discussing and identifying challenges and resources related to currently and formerly incarcerated people. (jump)

“I organized the event because there is a need for support services for people impacted by the criminal justice system,” Vrtiak said. “It’s supposed to be a correctional facility meaning we’re going to help you.”

Hector Verdugo speaking to correctional officers and law-enforcement at the Criminal Justice Dialogue. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Vrtiak.

Vrtiak now works at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility as the programs coordinator for reintegration work. She helps incarcerated people get the resources they need to succeed while they are in jail. She helps them find a ride home when they are released, a job, and housing. According to Vrtiak, people who have gone to jail often have trouble finding work and housing when they are released. A study by Urban Institute found that only 45 percent of formerly incarcerated men are employed eight months after they are released from prison.

“When people go to jail they are forgotten about and when they get out they’re still being punished,” Vrtiak said. “These are people who deserve second chances.”

Vrtiak said that incarcerated people are a part of the community. If the community invests in them they improve the community as a whole.

“I’m a firm believer in helping incarcerated people get better,” Vrtiak said.

Vrtiak worked alongside other sociology students and the Sociology, Criminology and Social Justice club to organize the event.
Ian Kochinski is a sociology major at HSU and the president of the Sociology, Criminology and Social Justice club at HSU. Kochinski was approached by Vrtiak to help organize the dialogue. Kochinski had been interested in helping with the dialogue since day one.

“Prisoners are locked in a hole and we hardly ever see them so it’s hard to empathize with them and address the inequalities they face,” Kochinski said. “I think they are deserving of a little more attention.”

The dialogue was a week long discussion filled with guest speakers who were impacted by the justice system. Hector Verdugo is part of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program centered in Los Angeles. Verdugo came to HSU to speak at one of the discussions. He spoke about what life was like as a gang member in Los Angeles and the trauma he faced.

The housing reentry roundtable talking about housing facilities in Humboldt county. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Vrtiak.

“I saw a lot of things that went on in my house like overdoses and people getting shot,” Verdugo said. “I was scared but I had to act tough.”

Verdugo said he met the founder of Homeboy Industries as a gang member ready to change his life.

“I want to give an understanding that gang members are people that just need to heal,” Verdugo said.