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Preparing criminal justice students for the real-world

13 June 2024

UC is transforming criminal justice education by including real-life situations into the curriculum.


Photo caption: University of Canterbury Faculty of Law Associate Professor Helen Farley.

Criminal justice students at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) are gaining a realistic understanding of the complexities of the criminal justice system by following the lives of fictional characters Chris and Jimmy.

The course, designed by Faculty of Law Associate Professor Helen Farley, explores critical aspects such as policy decision-making, victimisation, the court system, sentencing structures, and life after prison. By engaging with these scenarios, students can better appreciate the human element behind criminal justice processes.

“We use the narrative to create the direction and flow of the course,” Associate Professor Farley says. “The curriculum challenges students to consider pivotal questions, such as: ‘What could have happened at any step of the way to keep Chris and Jimmy out of prison?’” 

What makes this approach impactful is the collaboration with a theatre company that employs actors who have been in prison. 

“These actors bring authenticity to their roles, sharing personal stories of family concerns and remorse over past mistakes. It helps our students understand that criminal justice involves real people, not just abstract ideas,” Associate Professor Farley says. “Our Introduction to Criminal Justice provides a thorough understanding of how the system and restorative justice fit into the broader picture.”

The programme includes practical learning opportunities, such as interactions with justice agencies at the Justice Precinct Te Omeka. Associate Professor Farley says that students can also participate in breakout sessions with industry professionals, gaining invaluable insights into specific jobs and career advice.

UC also offers distance learning options and an online Certificate of Criminal Justice. “Our online programme is a mix of people who are unable to attend campus, single parents and working professionals. Our Māori participation rate is much higher compared to our face-to-face class at 45%.”

Collaborating with criminal justice agencies such as the Department of Corrections, Ministry of Justice, and the Police ensures the programme meets industry standards. 

“The agencies provide scrutiny and input to ensure graduates are well-prepared for employment in the sector. Annual Board of Studies meetings in Wellington will facilitate this high-level involvement,” Associate Professor Farley explains.

“We are preparing our students for the workforce by involving justice agencies directly in our curriculum. They are excited to participate and are instrumental in internship and job opportunities for our students—they need a smart, skilled workforce, and we are committed to providing just that.”

sdg 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality Education.

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