Students from Keele have made the return leg of the trip for three years now and the programme has been a great success. Students learn about how the criminal justice system operates in a different country, particularly one where gun crime is a prevalent issue; where the police in response feel they need to carry an array of weapons for their own, and for public, protection; and where the death penalty still exists in many states. Students therefore had the opportunity to contrast this experience with what they have already learnt about the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
This year the week-long programme took place at the beginning of April and students enjoyed a packed schedule….
Monday 4th April: The students settled into Ball State University campus life and later attended a talk by the Chief of the University Police Department, and were treated to a K9 demonstration. Canines (usually German Shepherds) are predominantly used by the police for narcotics and bomb detection, and for tracking people. The demonstration involved a role-play exercise where a (rather nervous) police officer pretended to flee from a crime and the police dog was instructed to track and catch the ‘suspect’.
Tuesday 5th April: Students attended interactive sessions held on a victim advocacy programme, police investigation of domestic violence, and a court volunteering programme. Later that evening, students were given the opportunity to attend a police ride-along with the University, Muncie, and Delaware County Police Departments. This was a highlight of the week where students enjoyed (quite literally) a front seat to all of the action! Students were involved in stopping drivers who had committed a traffic offence; dealing with various disputes and disturbances; an alleged theft from a supermarket; as well as being involved in the arrest of individuals and taking them to the County Jail.
Wednesday 6th April: Students attended court to observe proceedings. The morning consisted of pre-trial hearings on ten cases, which included a 22 year old male being accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, a 29 year old female accused of child molestation, a 21 year old male accused of committing an armed robbery, as well as cases of theft, battery, burglary and probation violation.
Thursday 7th April: Students job shadowed workers from probation and community corrections. This provided an opportunity for students to see first-hand what working in probation and community punishment entails in another country. Students could also see how ex-offenders cope with life after prison, with one interesting case of an ex-offender who discussed the difficulties of adapting to modern life after being released from prison two weeks earlier, having served a 26-year sentence for murder. Later in the day, students attended a tutorial on gang violence and were asked to design some solutions and crime prevention strategies for what was becoming a particular problem in the area.
Friday 9th April: To end the programme, students had a guided tour of Pendleton Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. This facility houses inmates who are serving long-term sentences as well as those who are on death row. Students were advised to wear non-provocative clothing on the day (due to the likely adverse attention from inmates) and to ensure all clothes and shoes were clean (due to the very sophisticated security system that all visitors must go through). Although certain wings were closed off on the tour for safety purposes, students were given a behind the scenes tour of all aspects of the facility. Despite a few shouts and whistles from inmates, students came away feeling privileged to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity.
Saturday 10th April: Students had an exciting opportunity to visit Chicago for a day of sightseeing. They visited navy peer, took a trip up to the 103rd floor of Sears Tower, sampled the famous caramel and cheddar popcorn from ‘Garretts’, and even managed to fit in some shopping along the ‘Magnificent Mile’.
Overall, the trip provided students with a first-hand experience of all aspects of the US criminal justice system, from the time where individuals enter the system during the arrest by the police, right through to the trial, punishment and subsequent monitoring after offenders have completed their sentence. Students enjoyed the week and were keen to recommend it to others…
"The trip to Ball State University did not only teach me a great deal about the fundamental elements of the American criminal justice system but we also 'stepped into the shoes' of Americans for a week and met some really great people. All of which gave my peers and I, a unique and memorable week."
[Laura, first year Criminology student]