BY RAEGAN NEUFELD
Eight books, ten technical reports and 22 peer-reviewed articles are just a few of the accolades held by the 2022 recipient of the President’s Distinguished Scholar award, April Terry.
Seen as the top honor at Fort Hays State University, the President’s Distinguished Scholar is awarded to a faculty member based on their contributions to the university and their discipline of study through scholarly and creative activities. Terry, an assistant professor in the criminal justice program, was announced as this year’s recipient during the fall convocation in August and recognized at a presentation held on Wednesday in Forsyth Library.
“Her professional experiences in the criminal justice system have formed her teaching philosophy of engaging students in applied experiences, as well as traditional academic literature,” FHSU President Tisa Mason said at the presentation.
According to Mason, Terry is also active in community service. In 2020, she and colleague Sarah Broman Miller worked on an undergraduate literacy project where they read to incarcerated mothers and grandmothers at the Topeka Correctional Facility. This work tied into Terry’s presentation on Wednesday.
Titled ‘A Veneer of Idyllic but [Un]safe Dirt Roads: Young Women’s Pathways to Safety and Belonging behind Prison Walls,’ Terry’s presentation focused on her study of girls and women from rural areas who are incarcerated in Kansas.
“When we look at girls and women, most incarcerated girls and women have very extensive abuse histories,” Terry said. “Not one-time traumatic events, but chronic abuse histories. Unfortunately, a lot of our criminological theory and criminal justice studies have always focused on boys and men in urban places. A good chunk of my research is to look at girls and women in rural places.”
According to Terry, rural areas are prone to judgment based on gender norms and family name, leading to an ‘inner circle.’
“When we do that, we have this tendency to ignore, maybe intentionally or unintentionally, girls’ call for help when they need things or report things,” she said. “A lot of times, we find that girls respond by engaging in what people might call delinquent or deviant behavior, including things like running away, using drugs and alcohol and engaging in self-harming behavior.”
Terry went on to share statements from girls and women in the Juvenile Correctional Complex and Topeka Correctional Facility who she interviewed. The statements she shared revealed the girls and women felt safer while incarcerated than they were before. Some also shared they are grateful for the time they have spent incarcerated.
“These people are grateful that they’re locked up in this setting, because that was better than the environment from which they came from, and they felt like it was an opportunity to start over,” Terry said.
The youngest girl Terry interviewed was 14 years old. She also interviewed people in communities such as probation officers and juvenile judges. These individuals talked about the stigma around seeking help, generational issues and the lack of services in rural areas.
“They were very much aware of the fact that we don’t have a lot of services, people are hesitant to seek services and when they do, it depends on who you are how even professionals will react,” Terry said.
While summarizing her findings, Terry pointed to several proactive and reactive strategies. The first was giving abused girls and women a place to go. She also talked about preventing the path from Child Protective Services to the juvenile justice system and better trauma-informed responses in schools. Lastly, she talked about the reintegration process incarcerated individuals go through.
“We have a really ugly habit in this country of waiting to reintegrate people after they’ve been incarcerated until weeks or months before they get out,” she said. “They may be locked up for years, and then six months before they leave we make this attempt to reconnect them in the community. We have really lost a lot of valuable time by then. Research suggests people should begin reintegration the day they’re incarcerated and every day thereafter, and we should increase the types of transitional services we have.”