Students explore prisons, life in Croatia

By: ISU Communications and Marketing Staff, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
July 20, 2009

For 14 Indiana State University students, memories of time abroad this summer feature a medium-security prison at Turopolje, Croatia.

That was part of the travel plan though as the students traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, in late May for a two-week long seminar course "Corrections: An International Perspective." The course, taught at the University of Zagreb by ISU Criminology Professor Sudipto Roy and Croatian professors, included tours of the country's prisons.

Though ISU and the University of Zagreb established an exchange program in April 2005, the trip in May was the first for ISU students to make to Croatia. Croatian students have visited the ISU campus for classes in 2006 and 2009; they are scheduled to return in May 2010.

"The students get the opportunity to visit overseas universities, take courses along with local students, participate in field trips to varied correctional facilities and, most importantly, learn about criminal justice activities in other countries," said Roy. "In addition, the students meet local people, make new friends, and learn how to accommodate themselves to local lifestyles, culture and mores."

Such exchanges also allow students to experience how different countries handle offenders within their criminal justice systems.

"Some countries impose harsh punishments on offenders, as they emphasize retribution more than rehabilitation," Roy said. "In some other countries, rehabilitation is emphasized more than retribution; consequently, punishments imposed on offenders in those countries are more humane. They treat their offenders, including prisoners, as human beings, not numbers. Given this context, it is important for ISU students to learn about criminal justice system activities in other countries."

During the 2008 visit to ISU, Croatian students and professors expressed excitement about sharing their country, customs and criminal systems with their ISU counterparts.

"I think American students would learn a lot," Ljiljana Miksaj-Todorovic, chair, department of criminology at the University of Zagreb, said during that visit. "Our treatment is much different. In the Croatian prison system, prisoners are still names, not numbers."

With that, ISU students concur.

"I expected their prison system to be harsher than the U.S. but was completely wrong," said Brittny Downing, a graduate student in criminology from Vincennes. "I liked that the Croatian prison systems were strong on human rights."

"They have some similarities such as sentencings and prisons," said Abby Swanson, a criminology graduate student from St. Louis, describing the differences between American and Croatian prisons. "However, their sentences are more lenient than ours and their prisons are more relaxed than ours."

Downing described other differences between the two countries' prison systems.

"The medium security prison doesn't have a fence around it," she said. "It's set up similar to our level one but the offenders are in different rooms with eight to 16 bunks per room."

Other differences Downing found ranged from the prisoners using metal forks and knives to the prison superintendent speaking with each offender within three months of his stay to question how the prisoner is doing and how officials could make the prison better.

"After three to four months in prison, offenders will get weekend furloughs - yes, for the medium security prisoners serving terms of five years or less," she said. "The chief security officer stated these furloughs were so that the offenders can ‘fulfill their needs.'

Payal Patel, a senior criminology major from Toronto, Canada, said even if Croatians tried to establish as strict a prison system as the United States that it wouldn't work.

"The people who commit crime are really respectful. They know not to do it again because in their prison they were taught respect and trust," she said. "They treat them as if they were normal people. Here in the States, in many places, the society thinks that a person who commits a crime is not normal."

Indiana State students ventured to more than prisons by spending time with Croatian students enjoying the Zagreb nightlife and traveling to the historic city of Pula with its Roman Empire relics on the Adriatic Sea.

"I learned what they like to do for fun is similar to us and we as college students are very similar," Swanson said. "It was just neat to see what American stuff they thought was cool and what they like to do on weekends."

Downing said she was surprised by how similar they were to the Croatian students, and by the differences.

"I found it interesting how the majority did not own cars and relied on public transportation," she said. "I also felt bad for them because their professors required them to predominantly take oral tests as opposed to written ones."

Patel counted spending time with the Croatian students as a favorite memory, and thinks other students should take the opportunity to study abroad.

"Every person doesn't know how things work in different countries," she said. "If students are able to go, they should experience different living styles and standards so they can appreciate what they have already."

Swanson said the trip, including the visit to prisons, will have a long-lasting impact upon on the participants.

"When we all have careers we will be able to compare how things work here in America and in Croatia, and we will be able to bring a new perspective toward some job problems," she said.

The university has designated criminology as a Program of Regional Distinction as part of an initiative funded in part by the Lilly Endowment to recognize ISU's most distinctive programs.

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Contact: Sudipto Roy, Indiana State University, professor of criminology and criminal justice, at 812-237-2198 or sroy@indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or at jsicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/567309046_Y3gK7-L.jpg

Cutline: As part of a trip to Croatia, ISU students traveled to historic city of Pula with its Roman Empire relics on the Adriatic Sea. ISU/Courtesy photo

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/567309419_Gf2zX-L.jpg

Cutline: ISU students walk down a street in Croatia during a trip as part of the two-week long seminar course "Corrections: An International Perspective." ISU/Courtesy photo