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Breaking down barriers in Native American communities.

Terrence Schemenauer, corrections field supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections' Division of Community Corrections, began his corrections career in 1991 as a probation and parole agent after working several years as a social worker. Now a supervisor to 12 agents and support staff in four northern Wisconsin counties, Schemenauer is active in the communities he serves and has encouraged his staff to do the same.

Three of the four counties that Schemenauer supervises, contain Native American reservations. He has helped tribal members by developing and conducting workshops, usually held on the reservations, covering such topics as substance abuse, domestic violence and DOC work in local communities. "Working with the different tribes has been the most challenging and rewarding experience in my career," Schemenauer said.

In 1999, Schemenauer developed a training program to initiate sentencing or healing circles, an alternative to incarceration, in various Native American communities. According to Schemenauer, this involves using a panel of tribal members to use their culture, traditions and spirituality to work with offenders to give up their criminal lifestyle and addictions to drugs and alcohol. Circle criteria are that the offender has ties to the community, must volunteer to participate, must admit guilt, must be willing to meet with the victim and must be willing to do what is asked of him or her by the circle. The case is then presented to the circle. "We explain what a person is in for, what the violation is, any past violations, and any family members that may be willing to participate," Schemenauer said. If the circle decides to interview the offender, he or she is invited to participate.


"When someone comes to the circle, they are considered a girl or a boy and as such, can be forgiven for their errors. After they finish the circle, they are considered a woman or a man and as such are expected to lead and walk the path of an adult. As an adult, they are no longer given the same forgiveness," Schemenauer explained. Referrals to the circles are usually made by probation and parole agents as an alternative to jail or prison sentences for supervision violations.

Schemenauer, along with his staff, provided training for healing circles for nearly fours years. Although these circles are not currently operating, discussions between Schemenauer and tribal members have occurred in an effort to resume them in various communities. "This program was the result of my belief that all offenders are members of a community: sons, daughters, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.," Schemenauer said, adding, "As such, we were weakening our communities by locking up people and not letting the community take an active role in voicing their feelings about their family members."

Schemenauer continually reaches out to the reservations within the counties he supervises. He has initiated culturally based training and a substance abuse program, as well as report days when agents go to particular sites throughout the reservations. "This allows the people in the community to get to know us.... allows my agents to learn about the reservation and its culture, and fosters development of resources between the reservations and us," Schemenauer said.

During the past year, Schemenauer has been working with various members of the criminal justice community to develop a juvenile drug court in Ashland County, and an adult drug court in Sawyer County. According to Schemenauer, drug courts involve a team of people trying to affect change. "The court sees the offender as a person with a disease and doesn't throw them out or revoke when the "cancer" flares (when they use drugs or alcohol)," he said. "What they do is react immediately to the negative behavior, use positive reinforcement and develop a relationship between the court and the offender. It humanizes everyone involved."

In addition to his regular job, Schemenauer finds time to be an active member of numerous community and DOC initiatives for both Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

"Mr. Schemenauer is firmly committed to treating all people, including those with cultural differences, with respect and dignity. He has worked very hard to learn about the culture and traditions of the American Indian people and has encouraged his staff to do so as well," said John Werner, assistant regional chief in the DOC Division of Community Corrections. "Mr. Schemenauer's goal is not to rid the communities he works in from offenders by incarcerating them, but rather to afford them community services and programming that will allow them to change their criminal thinking and behavior, which in turn will make them productive members of the community."

Susan L. Clayton is managing editor of Corrections Today.
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Title Annotation:The Best in the Business; Terrence Schemenauer of Wisconsin Department of Corrections
Author:Clayton, Susan L.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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