Southern Vermont College Criminal Justice Students Observe Court Cases at New Scotland Justice Court

October 19, 2013

Students in Southern Vermont College’s Criminal Justice program attended the New Scotland Justice Court in Slingerlands, N.Y., to witness an actual court session presided over by Judge Margaret Adkins. During a panel discussion following the session, students had the opportunity to gain a better understanding of policing, court procedure, and sentencing alternatives.

Panel members included Judge Adkins and representatives of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department, Probation, and TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities), an alternative to incarceration program. Students witnessed live plea bargaining and motion argument in actual court cases involving their Criminal Justice Professor, Renee Merges, and defense lawyers representing clients who were charged with crimes including DWI, domestic violence, and drug offenses.

Professor Merges said, "In the Criminal Justice program at Southern Vermont College, our goal is to combine the practical and the academic for a complete learning experience for each student. By involving students in actual criminal justice proceedings, they learn by seeing the professionals doing their jobs. Mock activities prepare the students to actually do those jobs themselves."

Katie Nelson of Bennington and a senior in the SVC Criminal Justice program said, "By providing  programs like the court trip, students can view the entire system to determine where we will best fit. For me, hearing about the alternatives to incarceration programs from a woman panelist with a masters in both Social Work and Criminal Justice opened up a part of the system that speaks to both of my passions, Criminal Justice and Social Work. I am now more certain that these passions together have a meaningful place in the Criminal Justice system."

The students answered questions asked by the judge during the court session and engaged the panel members in conversations on how they chose their profession. A student commented that speaking with the panel members made the whole system real. “Talking to them really helps you understand the actual work you will do when you graduate from college,” a student remarked.

Funding for this program was provided by The Alice Shaver Foundation that supports student and faculty travel to conferences and course and career-related settings.

Professor Merges holds special assignment status after retiring from the District Attorney’s office following 31 years of service.  This status allows Professor Merges to handle cases for teaching purposes at this local court in Albany County.

Additional information on the College’s Criminal Justice program is available here or by contacting Professor Merges at 802-447-6385 or