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Students

Prague offers a new view on justice

July 22, 2010

Colorado State University criminology and criminal justice students sit in on courtroom hearings, watch Parliamentary debates, visit prison sites, learn how foreign legal systems operate and explore Europe as part of a six-week, six-credit summer study abroad program.

N. Prabha Unnithan, CSU sociology professor and director of the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice, teaches the 2010 summer program’s 14 students the similarities and differences among foreign legal systems. Students participating this year come from Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Czech Republic provides a unique insight into a legal system that is less punitive than the U.S. system, yet has a lower crime rate.

Program highlights

  • To study the status of the Czech legal system, including current crime rates, system structure, history and its entrance into the European Union.
  • To use comparative critical thinking to alert students of the differences between the Czech system and justice systems worldwide.
  • To use guest lectures and site visits to better understand the nature of the criminal justice system in the region.

Hands-on experience with criminal justice issues

A unit on war crimes was the most moving for students, according to Tara Shelley, assistant professor of sociology, who led the program in 2009. In all three years of the program’s existence, students have made a field visit to Terezin, a former World War II concentration camp, which helped them better visualize the atrocities committed during the Nazi occupation.

Students this summer observed a court proceeding for three Nigerians accused of trafficking drugs across the border of the Czech Republic. Courtroom procedure in the Czech Republic is vastly different from that in the United States.

“Prosecution and defense lawyers have much less of a role, and according to the students, ‘sat passively’ as the judge asked questions and examined the physical evidence,” Unnithan said.

The drug trafficking trial and a visit to a ‘drop in’ drug treatment center in Prague offered insight into the difference in ideologies between the Czech and U.S. systems.

“They all seemed impressed with the harm reduction approach that the Czechs take and thought it was much more sensible than the U.S. ‘war on drugs,’” said Mike Hogan, associate professor of sociology at CSU and the first professor to teach the summer program when it began in 2008.

Site visits and European travels

As with many study abroad programs, the Prague criminal justice program gave students a chance to travel around the area (including visits to other European countries on their own). However, the integration of site visits and local speakers into the curriculum makes for a unique study abroad experience.

Some of the places students saw this year include:
  • Terezin, a former World War II concentration camp
  • Liditz, a small Czech village that was leveled by the Nazis in retaliation for the assassination of an official
  • Czech forensic science lab
  • Court proceedings for three Nigerians accused of drug trafficking
  • Czech police museum
  • A newly constituted Chamber of Deputies (Lower House of Parliament) immediately after the Czech general election
  • A talk at the Prague American Cultural Center by Greg Drazek, deputy chief of diplomatic security for the American Embassy
  • Kutna Hora, the site for a historical silver mine and palace of several Bohemian rulers

Students can visit www.colostate.edu/Depts/Sociology/cscj to learn more about CSU's criminology program offered through the Department of Sociology. Students are also welcome to contact Prabha Unnithan, Tara Shelley or Mike Hogan if they want to learn more about the Prague Study Abroad program.

Written by Daniel Christopher, intern in CSU’s Department of Public Relations.


Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
E-mail: kimberly.sorensen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-0757