Decolonizing Criminology: Exploring Criminal Justice Decision-Making Through Strategic Use of Indigenous Literature and Scholarship

Grant program: Disrupting Colonialism through Teaching: An Integrated Seminar Series and Grants Program

Grant recipient: Danielle Murdoch, Department of Criminology

Project team: Michaela McGuire, collaborator and research assistant

Timeframe: October 2020 to April 2021

Funding: $5000

Course addressed: CRIM 410: Decision-making in Criminal Justice

Michaela McGuire and Danielle Murdoch

Final report: View Danielle Murdoch and Michaela McGuire's final report (PDF)

Description: For this project, I plan to decolonize my approach to teaching by integrating Indigenous scholarship and literature as a key component in CRIM 410: Decision-making in Criminal Justice. I have designed the course to explore overt and systemic racism in the criminal justice system (CJS) in Canada and to encourage students to examine unconscious/implicit biases and how these biases affect decision-making (their own and those of CJS personnel). The goal is for students to engage with these resources, in addition to other resources (e.g., a reading about Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility), over the course of the semester to examine how colonialism contributes to Indigenous overrepresentation in the Canadian criminal justice system and shapes the experiences of Indigenous persons involved in the system.

Students will learn through Indigenous literature and scholarship how settler colonialism affects Indigenous peoples with a particular focus on their involvement in the Canadian criminal justice system. Students will examine unconscious/implicit biases and overt and systemic racism that contribute to the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Through the process I want to learn whether students understand the colonial mechanisms that influence decision-making in the criminal justice system and whether students are able to identify their own unconscious/implicit bias with respect to decision-making in the criminal justice system.

I plan to work collaboratively with Criminology Graduate Student, Michaela McGuire, to create a pre-recorded lecture video on the findings of her master’s thesis about the formation of a Haida Justice System, as well as create a podcast where she and I discuss what it means to decolonize teaching from both the perspective of an Indigenous woman pursuing a career in academia (Michaela) and as a white settler (me). The podcast would enable students to do a meta-reflection on the packaging of the course as a whole.

Questions addressed: 

  • What are current models and best practices for decolonizing teaching in criminology or related fields?
  • In what ways are students able to apply Indigenous literature and scholarship to their assignments?
  • To what extent did students believe the course resources (readings, videos, and podcasts) were effective for enhancing their understanding of how colonialism contributes to the involvement of Indigenous peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system? 
  • In what ways do students anticipate that their examination of colonialism, unconscious/implicit biases, and overt and systemic racism in the course will affect how they behave in their future careers?

Knowledge sharing: We are seeking opportunities to present the findings at teaching and learning conferences (e.g., STLHE, ISSOTL) and criminology conferences (e.g., Western Society of Criminology) and we are committed to writing up the findings for submission to at least three academic journals to reach a broader audience.

Keywords: Decolonizing; Indigenous; Pedagogy; Education; Indigenous education; Decolonization; settler-colonial studies; Allyship; Indigenization; higher education; Indigenous literature