Prison tours increase student empathy towards prisoners and staff
By Christine Palka
Danielle Murdoch, a lecturer in the School of Criminology, finds that prison tours can have a positive impact on her undergraduate students. She confirmed this finding with a study that collected feedback on the optional field trips' value and barriers.
Murdoch’s study reveals that students benefited from the tours in three main ways: an increased understanding of course materials, broader insight into potential career options, such as the role of correctional officers and treatment personnel, and most importantly, a stronger connection with the people they study.
“The experience was eye-opening for students, many of whom discussed how their participation challenged their preconceived notions of who prisoners and staff are, ultimately expanding their personal notions of humanity to encompass those who reside and work within institutions [prisons],” says Murdoch.
The prison tours provided students with the unique opportunity to speak directly with correctional staff, and in one institution, with prisoners. Students who spoke with prisoners said this served to decrease the social distance between themselves, as “non-criminal university students,” and prisoners.
Students noted that they gained a better understanding of the impact of imprisonment on both the prisoners and the prisoners’ families, and especially the challenges in maintaining strong family relationships.