While Sociology 336, Comparative Criminal Justice Systems, might sound like a normal college course, the class actually brings together students from the University of Idaho and Washington State University for an educational experience abroad.
Melanie Neuilly, a professor of comparative criminal justice at WSU, thought the course was a great opportunity to take students to study criminal justice in another country. This year’s program traveled to the Netherlands for its third year at WSU and second at UI. She said in previous years the program has also traveled to London.
“The purpose of the program is to expose students to a variety of dimensions of criminal justice,” Neuilly said.
The course provides students with the opportunity to compare cultures while witnessing the processes of international organizations in the field of criminology. Neuilly said beyond that, the class exposes students to a more detailed international perspective of criminal justice.
“The most obvious difference is the vastly different approach to what we call vice,” Neuilly said.
She said items that could be considered vice include the consumption of cannabis and prostitution.
“Here in (America) overall there is no tolerance for vice, it is illegal,” Neuilly said. “But in the Netherlands vice is not strictly legal. There are a lot of illegal aspects to it, but there are enough things normalized that it ends up being tolerated.”
When it comes to the legalization of conventionally illegal practices, Neuilly said it’s common for misconceptions to arise, like the idea that cannabis consumption and prostitution are common practice in Amsterdam.
“While the consumption of cannabis is tolerated in the Netherlands, when you look at the statistics, it’s not the Dutch that consume the cannabis,” she said. “The locals have a fairly low percentage of consumption as a population compared to the American population.”
Neuilly said though it’s tolerated in Amsterdam, the majority of the population don’t partake. Whereas, in the U.S., some vices are still criminalized, but the majority of the population do them.
Neuilly began to discuss the idea of collaborating with her husband Brian Wolf, who is professor of sociology at UI.
“We began to question ‘Well what if we both take students?'” she said.
Wolf said the collaboration was a natural transition because he thinks there is a lot of redundancy in the two programs. Wolf said he has traveled abroad a lot and wanted to build a program that would be specific to criminology, but also get students who normally would’t consider going abroad interested by doing a short-term experience.
“It’s been astonishingly successful,” he said. “It’s actually shocked me with how well it’s worked.”
Casey Keller, a UI senior studying accounting and sociology, has attended the program for two consecutive years. He said he believes the experiences provided by these programs can help participants develop a more global view of the world.
“You have a bigger appreciation for everything,” he said. “You see things about London, Paris or Africa on TV, and it almost seems like it’s not real because it’s on the other side of the world. When I went to London for the first time it was surreal. When people were driving on the other side of the road, culture shock hit me and I realized how real it was.”
Wolf said it’s important to allow students to see examples of international criminal justice systems. He said often when teaching classes and reading material, criminology is slated toward “big-city type stuff,” so he always searches for ways to broaden students’ perspectives.
“London is a very popular location, so this year professor Neuilly and I wanted to do something different,” Wolf said.
Wolf said he wanted to take students to a non-English speaking country because he believed it would encourage them to see something that was a big contrast to what they had seen in the past.
“This year’s trip was strictly criminology based activities,” Keller said.
Keller said they were given the opportunity to speak with an ex-prostitute who now manages a prostitution information center and local law enforcement to understand different perspectives on the same controversial industry.
“We thought it would be interesting to see how law enforcement approaches that and also to see how proprietors, people who make money off that system, like sex workers and cannabis coffee shop owners, talk about it,” Wolf said.
It was a natural way to put the two university’s resources together and give students an experience that they can draw from in the future, he said.
“When you go abroad, it absolutely changes your perspective,” Wolf said. “In this case it was about criminology, but it even changes your perspective of how people use space, how people eat meals and even how people ride bicycles everywhere.”