Experiential Learning in Criminology

Students in the Criminology and Criminal Justice department have found links between their in-class learning and the lived experiences of those in the New Brunswick Women’s Correctional Centre (NBWCC).

The students, in partnership with the Centre for Research on Youth at Risk (CRYAR), prepared literature reviews and poster presentations to complement a research study conducted by Dr. Susan Reid, Dr. Dawne Clarke, Meghan MacEachern, and Autumn Locke. 

The research study included a survey with all incarcerated women at the NBWCC followed by a series of focus groups. The findings were then presented as part of a Symposium titled “Polyvictimization and Trauma: Hearing the Voices of Incarcerated Women,” which brought professionals from all areas of the criminal justice system to campus.

The symposium, which was funded by the RCMP’s Family Violence Initiative, featured student work as well as life story boards completed by incarcerated women. 

Emily Archibald, a fourth-year student from Fredericton, NB, said the symposium was able to tie the themes and topics from coursework together with professional experience.

“We spent many hours learning about the women at the NBWCC and how polyvictimization and trauma have affected them in all kinds of different ways,” she said. “Being a part of this symposium allowed us to hear from those who are active members within the corrections community and brought a sense of realness to everything we studied this semester.”

Archibald’s research explored trauma-informed correctional care—a new form of care tailored specifically to trauma survivors’ short and long term needs. Her presentation focused on creating awareness and arming those within correctional facilities with new programs that promote resilience, recovery, and wellness.

“My research promotes the idea that something as simple as the language and actions used can be triggering to those who have experienced lifetime polyvictimization,” she said. “I was inspired to focus my attention on this particular topic as I observed how deeply trauma impacts all these women’s’ lives in various ways.”

Dr. Susan Reid, Director of the CRYAR and the professor who taught this experiential learning course, said this project was an opportunity for students to help symposium participants understand the voices of the incarcerate women who had shared their stories as part of the study.

“A unique aspect of this part of the day was the students sharing their own literature searches while standing beside the women’s’ story boards that surrounded their own work,” Reid said.

The students had an opportunity to meet with the incarcerated women during the class initiative Stunningly Successful, which provided reintegration clothing for the women.  Comments from the women about the importance of this event also formed part of the symposium which might be best summed up by one woman’s comment “my heart was fuller than my shopping bag.”

For Archibald, the most valuable part of the experience was taking her knowledge into the community and putting her education to work.

“This class allowed us to get involved with our community by making connections and acquiring resources outside the classroom,” she said.

For Reid, the symposium provided the professional criminal justice community an opportunity to learn and hear firsthand about the trauma and victimization experienced by women offenders prior to their incarceration and shed a light on the need for more correctional programming with these women.
“I was extremely proud of the work the students have done all term and enjoyed the enthusiastic response they received from the community professionals who attended,” Reid said.