Taking Criminology Across the Pond
Students Explore Different Justice Systems Through Idaho Criminology Abroad
The Westminster Magistrates’ Court. A high-security psychiatric hospital that treats violent criminal offenders. The Metropolitan Police Department’s counter-terrorism unit.
This list is far from the traditional “must-see” itinerary for tourists spending a week in England’s capital city.
But, this is exactly how 15 University of Idaho criminology students – including Saydie Garcia – spent their spring break in March 2019.
“I had always wanted to go abroad, but I did not want to take a full semester,” she said. “The Idaho Criminology Abroad program was a perfect match for me. We went so many places. I really enjoyed seeing the U.K. justice system in action.”
Now in its fifth year, the program takes students from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, along with students from neighboring Washington State University, for a weeklong trip to different locations throughout Europe to compare and contrast global justice systems. Past trips have taken students to Amsterdam and London.
“The goal of the program is to help students examine patterns of crime and systems of criminal justice in an international, comparative setting,” said Joseph De Angelis, an associate professor of sociology in U of I’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences. “These trips help get students out of the classroom and provide them with a practical, ground-level view of how systems of justice operate in another country.”
For Garcia, now a senior from Pocatello, this contrast was seen most at the Southwark Coroner’s Court – which investigates the cause and manner of unnatural, unknown or suspicious deaths.
“I was so intrigued with how different the U.S. and U.K. coroner systems were,” she said. ““I think the oddest thing for me WAS realizing that the U.S. system was originally based on the English system, and yet, the two are still so different.”
Garcia said while the United Kingdom requires five years of legal experience for someone to be a coroner, the U.S. requirements range from none at all to very little compared to counterparts across the Atlantic. Other differences include the role and power British coroners have in investigations.
Criminology at U of I
- Degrees available: Bachelor of Science in Criminology
- Location: Offered on-campus in Moscow or online
- Students enrolled: 224
- Program highlights:
- Idaho Criminology Abroad international trips
- Citizen’s Police Academy partnership with the Moscow Police Department
- State of Idaho’s first “Inside Out” program with Idaho Correctional Institution-Orofino
Learn more: uidaho.edu/criminology
Additional highlights included receiving a briefing on terrorism threats from the Metropolitan Police Department, observing the operation of the Westminster Magistrates’ Court and meeting at-risk youth participating in a volunteer police cadet training program.
“The places we stopped were very informative,” she said. “They were places that we would not have been able to go to or they would not have been the exclusive tours and opportunities that we had, without it being a school trip.”
But it wasn’t all about the criminal justice system – students also toured many of London’s historic locations, including the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and the British Houses of Parliament.
“I liked the balance of ‘work’ and free time,” Garcia said. “My favorite touristy part of the trip was seeing the crown jewels. They were so beautiful.”
Participating in the Idaho Criminology Abroad program was Garcia’s first time traveling outside of the U.S. independently. For her, doing so as part of a class enhanced the experience.
“The trip was so much better because I was able to create closer friendships with my classmates,” she said. “Since we all were criminology majors and had been in the same classes, it made for better questions and discussion at the sites.”
I really enjoyed seeing the U.K. justice system in action. Saydie Garcia
Thanks to scholarships and university grants Garcia received, the weeklong trip was a more affordable way for her to take part in an international study abroad experience.
“I used my leftover financial aid, including scholarships and an International Experience Grant, to help pay for the trip,” she said. “I would not have been able to afford to go without this support.”
The experience is one Garcia will take with her as she finishes her senior year and starts a career in intelligence with the U.S. Air Force.
Comparing Crime Systems
Since America was originally an English colony, it retains many of the features of the British criminal justice system, though there are some notable differences. Students who participate in the Idaho Criminology Abroad Program have the opportunity to explore these similarities and differences in depth.
- Legal systems were grounded historically in common law.
- The structure of courts – low-level and less serious criminal and civil cases are heard by magistrates, while more serious cases are heard by district courts (called “Crown Court” in the U.K.).
- Decisions can be appealed to appellate and supreme courts.
- The police are required to protect the civil liberties of the accused. For example, police officers in both places must generally warn criminal suspects about their right to remain silent. The presumption of innocence and trial by jury are also concepts rooted in English traditions.
- Both systems struggle with maintaining a balance between security and civil liberty.
However, there are some interesting differences between the countries. Sometimes those differences relate to the rituals of law and criminal justice.
- Lawyers in England wear wigs and black robes when they appear in Crown Court while U.S. lawyers wear suits when they appear in District Court (which is equivalent to Crown Court).
- In England, lawyers must complete additional rigorous training and apprenticeships after they finish their law degrees. In the U.S., lawyers can begin practicing law in whatever specialty they choose after passing a bar exam (and generally without the need for any additional training/apprenticeships).
- The U.K. does not hold elections for judges, prosecutors or sheriffs as happens in many parts of the U.S.
- While almost all U.S. law enforcement officers carry firearms, it is far less common for English police officers to carry guns. The legal rules relating to when and how police officers can use force are stricter in England than they are in the U.S.
- Closed circuit television surveillance is more common in Britain than in the U.S.
Published in the fall 2019 issue of Here We Have Idaho.