10 January 2019

Societal Impact Award for students giving Legal Aid to Prisoners and for teachers in Learning Lab Overvecht

Juridisch-Spreekuur-Gedetineerden.jpg
The students of "Juridisch Spreekuur Gedetineerden") with teachers Pauline Jacobs, Antoinette Bakker and Ruben Aksay

The students running a legal aid service for prisoners in two penitantiary institutions in the Utrecht region, have been awarded the Societal Impact Award of the LEG faculty. In the "staff" category, the winners were Peter Linde en Jeroen Vermeulen of the Learning Lab Overvecht

Helping in prison

The jury awards all students who ever volunteered in the Legal Aid for Prisoners – “Juridisch spreekuur gedetineerden” in the prisons of Nieuwegein and Nieuwersluis. In this weekly consultation hour, two students visit detainees to help to answer legal questions of all kinds. Questions on their house and rent, their jobs, custody over children, the regime in a prison, questions about legal proceedings, it can be anything. The lawyers of the prisoners focus on the case for which they are detained, the students can help with other questions. A self-refreshing pool of about 15 law students at Utrecht University keeps this Legal Aid Service going since 2002, supported by teachers of Law, including Antoinette Bakker and Pauline Jacobs. The teachers co read the questions and the answers that the students personally return (in letters) to the prisoners. According to the teachers, however, the students do most of the work independently under the guidance of a student assistant and former participant - Tessa de Groot.

The jury praised the durable and stable character of this initiative, to which many students have contributed and will be contributing. The project has fully proved its value by continuing to operate in times of budgetary cuts to basic forms of legal aid. There is a clear connection to the academic program; students are able to put their newly acquired knowledge into practice right away.  Jury member Anne-Wil Dijkstra added that the students can see that the real world can be much more difficult than the one on paper and that the students learn lessons that stay with them the rest of their lives.

Peter Linde en Jeroen Vermeulen van Learning Lab Overvecht
Mirko Noordegraaf (vice-dean Societal Impact), Peter Linde and Jeroen Vermeulen.

Learning Lab Overvecht

The Societal Impact Award for staff went to founders and project coördinators Peter Linde and Jeroen Vermeulen of Learning Lab Overvecht. This grew out of an Erasmus+ project on ‘Community Enterprise Action Learning’, four years ago, and turned into a university-wide education innovation program on ‘Community engagement’.

Students, local residents, including residents with migration backgrounds, neighbourhood partners, and lecturers work together to turn ‘value cases’ into actual social enterprises with a clear societal impact on the neighbourhood. Examples are Café Mama, Social Car Wash, and Social bike. In Learning Lab Overvecht students, coming from different faculties, become part of a local Overvecht network in which residents, entrepreneurs and students learn together. The jury praised the inclusive and durable character of the project and its tangible societal effects. James Kennedy – dean of University College Utrecht –, an advocate of socially engaged academic education, recently referred to this project as the “golden standard of Community Service Learning”.

Societal Impact Award

The Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance hands out the yearly Societal Impact Award to highlight the societal impact of work by students and staff and to show appreciation of the students and staff concerned.

We strongly believe that our research and education should have societal impact. And every year, students and staff at the faculty prove their commitment to this aim. In all kinds of ways, they contribute towards tackling societal issues and helping to find solutions.

De jury consists of:

  • Prof. Marleen van Rijswick (School of Law)
  • Prof. Judith van Erp (School of Governance)
  • Dr. Hein Roelfsema (School of Economics)
  • Anne-Wil Dijkstra (Choco Co-Captain Tony’s Chocolonely)