This University is Experimenting with Realistic Fieldwork in Criminology

It is often said that hands-on, real life experiences teach us much more than a textbook ever will. This is certainly the case for students in Durham University’s undergraduate criminology program in Durham, North England.

The university offers its third-year students a chance to participate in its Inside-Out program. In this program, 12 lucky students participate in a ten-week long course alongside prisoners in the daunting Frankland Prison, most famous for holding serial killers and child murderers Harold Shipman and Ian Huntley. The program itself is considered highly innovative, being the first of its kind in Europe.

Despite their obviously challenging learning conditions, it is the prisoners have significantly higher grades than the student participants, according to Professor Fiona Measham, and many are devoting their spare time to contributing to the university’s research projects. However, Measham says there are benefits for both parties, regardless of the grade disparity. Not only does it give students a better understanding of the lives of and conditions faced by inmates, but it also helps them to develop compassion for inmates on a human level.

As a criminology student in a Commonwealth country, I find this program quite interesting, and I would definitely advocate for more of these types of programs to be implemented, not only in North America and Europe, but worldwide. As per any field, interaction with real cases promotes a deeper appreciation for and understanding of the work and theory involved. However, this would be especially valuable in criminology programs. Why? Because that’s what criminology is.

Criminology is most simply defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the scientific study of crime and criminals.” For many universities, including mine, University of Toronto, this includes an examination of classical criminological theories, historic law and punishment changes, the development of police and basic causes of crime such as poverty. Though this is high-quality education, it fails to truly fulfill the goal of criminology. It doesn’t fully acknowledge the unique cultural-historical causes of crime, or criminals as complex human beings. Real life interactions with inmates helps fill this gap. Hearing their stories will shed new light on aspects such as institutional racism and the errors that have been repeated historically by their society that has resulted in the current climate for crime and criminals. Oftentimes, this varies from nation to nation.

In short, Durham University’s new Inside-Out program is groundbreaking in Europe, but is a useful tool that should be implemented everywhere to enrich and engage students. We will learn more about the field, about our history and about what it means to be human.

If you are a criminology student, what do you think about this? Comment and share your opinions below.

For more info on the programs, information can be found here at the Independent and here at Durham University’s website.

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