Thousands of high school and middle school students from across the state have come to prison – not as inmates, but as visitors to the DUI-focused Zero Fatalities Project presentation. Co-led by Assistant Attorney General Jay Sullivan and RIDOC’s Chief of Information and Public Relations Tracey Zeckhausen, The Zero Fatalities Project is a public safety initiative aimed at raising awareness of the devastating consequences of underage drinking & driving and reckless driving.
In June of 2010, the RIDOC’s Planning and Research Unit compiled a summary of surveys completed by attendants of the program from June 2008 to June 2010. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed stated that they do not talk about drinking and driving with their parents/caregivers and 35 percent said they sometimes get into cars with someone who has been drinking. Over half stated that they know someone well who has been involved in a DUI or reckless driving crash, with some even admitting they were either a passenger or the driver.
The program is designed with public safety and awareness in mind and engages students and community groups through a panel presentation by inmates who discuss their poor choices and their resulting life behind bars. Audiences gather in the Visiting Room of the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility for a panel session featuring pre-selected inmates doing long sentences for DUI- and reckless driving-related offenses. A new component this year is a video montage of actual news reports from crash scenes compiled for the program by WPRI Channel 12.
The panelists speak candidly about their crimes, the effects of their poor choices, and their incarceration. Two parents of victims speak about the devastating consequences these crashes have had upon them and their loved ones. Guests have the opportunity to ask questions of all speakers. In the summary referenced above, 80 percent of attendants surveyed stated that the presentations given by inmates and victims were “excellent.” Some of the words used to describe the presentations included “effective,” “touching,” “powerful,” “emotional,” “hitting home,” “eye-opening,” and “heartbreaking.”
Over 4,300 people from 40 different schools and organizations across the state have heard the sobering message of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and Attorney General’s Office-sponsored Zero Fatalities Project since it was launched during prom and graduation season in 2008. Fifty-three percent of attendees surveyed by the RIDOC stated that attending this program will change their behaviors for the better. Ninety-seven percent also reported that coming to the prison for the program was more effective than being presented the information at school. Forty percent had attended similar programs at their schools and of those students, 86 percent say they got more out of the Zero Fatalities Project.
The Zero Fatalities Project is a collaborative effort involving many agencies with an interest in this critical statewide issue. In addition to the Attorney General’s Office and the Corrections Department, partners include the Rhode Island Family Court, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association, the Rhode Island State Police, MADD-Rhode Island, and the Rhode Island Department of Transportation.
Zero Fatalities Project presentations, which can accommodate groups of up to 100 at a time, are available on Wednesday mornings; beginning at 9 a.m. Reimbursement for transportation to and from the ACI for schools requesting it is available through an agreement with the Department of Transportation. Those schools requesting reimbursement must submit bus receipts along with completed evaluations from the session. Parental permissions for students are the responsibility of the schools.
Reservations are being accepted throughout the year and the Department invites your interest and attendance.For more information or to book a session for the Zero Fatalities Project, please contact Tracey Zeckhausen, Chief of Information and Public Relations, at (401) 462-2609 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the program is also available on the Department’s website at www.doc.ri.gov under Media and Community Relations.