Universiteit Leiden

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Criminal Law and Criminology

Learning behind bars

In this unique exchange initiative, Leiden Law School students take a course together with inmates within prison walls.

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Two influential social reality institutions – the university and the prison system – are joining forces for this initiative. The participating inmates and students are encouraged to adopt a fair, equal mindset in order to view things from each other’s perspective

An inclusive academic community is a prerequisite for progressive research and teaching. Our students tend to develop their talents based on an elite social position. As a result, they develop little compassion for the less educated in society who are more likely to become involved in crime. 

There is often a lack of attention for the 'human side' of offenders. Unknown is unloved. This exchange initiative therefore creates connections between different social groups and facilitates an understanding of diverse perspectives and frames of reference. The initiative aims to both empower inmates on the one hand, and better prepare future lawyers and criminologists for their responsibilities regarding social equality on the other. 

A transformative learning experience

Any social context where power dynamics exist should incorporate education where those in positions of power – often highly qualified people – become acquainted with subordinate (and often socially vulnerable) people. This can help prevent dehumanisation in society. A transformative learning experience can help to achieve this. Today’s adult education system focuses on informative learning, i.e. expanding knowledge. That knowledge is then saved and processed by students within preexisting frames of reference. According to the founder of this concept, Jack Mezirow, transformative learning – viewing something from someone else's perspective – can transform rigid frames of reference and assumptions. As a result, students learn to adopt a more reflective, inclusive and nuanced mentality

Learning behind bars

From the criminal's perspective

As part of this innovative Comenius Senior Project (NRO), over a period of three years, BA1, BA2 and BA3 students will explore their existing frames of reference alongside inmates. The implementation of this learning track is in response to an urgent need for transformative experiential learning within the Law and Criminology bachelor’s programmes. Students will learn about both persons with legal rights and legal systems, and how to view something ‘from the criminal’s perspective’. 

Impact through education

Our ambition is for the education that we provide to teach students both critical thinking and self-reflective thinking skills. After all, they will bear great social responsibility in terms of the social inclusion of disadvantaged groups in their future careers. That responsibility will require them to safeguard equality in rights and duties. At the same time, we want to teach participating inmates to trust in their own capacity to successfully reintegrate back into society following their release from prison. 

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