Our audience of law enforcers and cadets learns best by doing, and any activity that provides them with a direct experience will help them understand more effectively. You can design your own experiential activities or adapt those created by others to gain the participation of your audience. These activities can add relevance and understanding where a lecture and bullet points cannot. I created Neil Island with the help of my daughter, Nadia. I originally created the exercise to force students to take a deep look at the components of our criminal justice system, but it works well with other topics including Community Policing, Community Diversity, Crime Prevention, Crisis Intervention, and others. You can decide how it best fits your students or topic, and feel free to change the activity to make it work for your audience.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” ~Aristotle

Neil Island

Break your class up into small groups, and provide them with copies of the following story (or display it on the screen or white board).

You have joined others in starting a new society on Neil Island, but even with a careful selection process, crime has become an issue. There is a prison, but it only has room for five people. They will each have their own cell, but they must share the common areas like bathrooms and the recreation facilities. There is no separation available, and no system of parole or probation exists due to financial cuts.

Queen Nadia (my daughter wanted to be queen of Ohio, but she had to settle for an island instead) has issued a proclamation to deal with this scourge on society by setting an example. Your citizens will decide the fate of the following people who have been convicted. The prisoners include:
1.A 50-year-old man who hired a hit-man to kill his son-in-law. The victim was physically abusing the suspect’s daughter for years.
2.A 27-year-old single mother of two convicted of a DUI accident that killed a 38-year-old man. He was a devoted husband and the father of three kids.
3.A 16-year-old burglar who was caught stealing an XBox from a neighbor’s house. He cooperated and confessed to three other burglaries in the area.
4.A 37-year-old man who abducted and repeatedly raped a 5-year-old girl. She was rescued after 10 days of captivity.
5.An 18-year-old gang member who was a passenger in a car that was involved in an armed robbery. A pursuit of the vehicle resulted in a crash that killed a police officer. She left a husband and her 6-month-old infant behind.
6.A 41-year-old man arrested while driving a stolen car. The car belongs to a missing woman who has never been found. The man has a previous conviction for rape.
7.A 26-year-old male teacher who had a consensual relationship with a 15-year-old student. The student said he loved his teacher and admitted that they were sexually involved.
8.A 13-year-old male who was caught molesting his two female cousins, ages 3 and 6. He has no criminal record but the victims’ parents want him locked away forever.

The citizens must follow the sentencing options based on the Queen Nadia’s proclamation, the available space, and the budget set for confinement.
1.One person must be executed. Try to make this a unanimous decision among your group.
2.One person must receive life in prison without parole.
3.One person must receive 20 years in prison.
4.One person must receive five years in prison.
5.One person must receive three years in prison.
6.One person must receive six months in prison.
7.Two people must go free with no punishment or court controls of any type.

Give the teams 20 to 45 minutes to work on their list (depending on the size of your groups). Some groups will want the option to give up. Force them to choose a sentence for each person. As officers, they will not have the option to give up. They need to experience the reality that some decisions in their career will be difficult to make. No one will want the responsibility of making them – they must make them just the same.

Each group must indicate who they executed and why. They must explain what influenced their decisions on who received the harshest sentence compared to the lightest. Have each group present their choices to the class and then compare the differences.

Did they lock up the 13-year-old? Will he simply become a better predator from the experience with other sex offenders all around him? Was he a victim himself? Most groups choose to execute the 37-year-old child abductor instead of the man who committed a premeditated murder even though capital punishment is not an option for such a crime in the real world. Ask them how they can rationalize such a decision? There are dozens of questions you can ask based on their discussions.

Ask how many members in a group had a difference of opinion. Go through the list one by one discussing the good and bad reasons for execution, imprisonment, or giving that particular person another chance. Some groups choose to release the 26 year old teacher who molests a student back into society because they see the word “consensual.” Students do not yet have the wisdom of a veteran officer, who understands a sexual predator uses the position of a teacher to find victims and the authority of the position to control them, but through exercises like Neil Island you can provide them with a valuable lesson. Talk about the ethics of our legal system as well as its inherent flaws.

Begin a class discussion by asking, “Do we really need services like probation, parole, child protective services, psychiatric hospitals, and rehabilitation centers?” Encourage an in-depth discussion on the importance of social services and incarceration, including the improvements that are needed in our current system. Ask them “What was the most frustrating part of the activity for you?”

This is one of the most compelling experiential activities that I have created. Deep discussions and strong arguments will occur. Be a facilitator and let the students control their group discussions. Stay out of their way unless they are getting completely off-track. Walk around and listen to their discussions, and take your own notes to use for the end of the exercise. The students will look at the different services in a new light when they are burdened with the responsibility to make decisions that will affect the community, the victim, the suspect, and both of their families.

Neil Island is thought-provoking and involves emotional situations that create a challenging activity for students, so make sure you have enough time before using this experiential activity. This activity can last 45 to 90 minutes depending on your class size and the depth of their discussions.

There is a PowerPoint presentation of the activity available for you at LEO-Trainer.com/games to create an active learning environment for your next audience.