Students Visit Italy to Compare Criminal Justice Systems

Criminal Justice students on a travel course in Italy make a stop at St. Peter's Square.

Criminal Justice students on a travel course in Italy make a stop at St. Peter’s Square.

Tom Powers, Associate Professor Benjamin Tucker, and Kristin Carollo

Tom Powers, Associate Professor Benjamin Tucker, and Kristin Carollo

Criminal justice students explore the Coliseum.

Criminal justice students explore the Coliseum.

During a trip to Italy last spring, a group of Dyson students got the chance to sit in on a homicide trial, visit local police headquarters, attend a university panel discussion on comparative criminal justice, and get their fill of gelato and sight-seeing along the way.

Twenty-one students joined Margaret FitzGerald and Benjamin Tucker, professors of Criminal Justice, for the eight-day travel course in May, which took them to Salerno, Pompeii, Rome, which included a trip to the Vatican City where they saw the pope, and ended in Florence.

This was the fifth year in a row that the Criminal Justice Department has led a travel course, and the second to Italy. Other countries they’ve visited include Poland and Ireland.

“We try to mix the cultural experience with learning about the criminal justice systems,” Tucker explained.

“The idea with these trips always is to improve our system. We are assuming that every country has something to offer us,” FitzGerald added.

As for the students, “They love it! It involves them in the culture. They see how culture is reflected in the criminal justice system, and for some it improves their foreign language skills. Also, it’s historical. You just can’t go to Italy and not be impressed,” FitzGerald said.

The trip started with a stop in Salerno at the local university where the Dyson professors were asked to participate in a panel discussion about the differences in the prosecutorial processes in the U.S. and Italy before an audience of several hundred students, faculty and members of the legal and law enforcement community.

“For me that was the highlight,” said FitzGerald. They hope to publish the results of their lectures in the future, and perhaps look at collaborating with the University of Salerno in other ways, such as through on-line courses. They wrapped up their day at the university at a lunch with the chancellor.

Next, the group made a stop at the Comando Provinciale dei Carabinieri, the equivalent to an American local police headquarters, for an overview of the police’s role in the Italian criminal justice structure, a tour of the facilities, and a few demonstrations by the forensics lab, including testing of drugs and other crime scene investigation techniques.

“It was interesting to see how involved the carabinieri are in every aspect of criminal justice and the way that they police the entire country as opposed to in America where every city has their own police force and every state has their own troopers,” said student Iris Colon ‘08.

The following day the students attended an evidentiary hearing for a fairly high-profile investigation of a 1980s homicide, for which new evidence had recently been discovered. Tucker’s primary contact from the Salerno Prosecutor’s Office and a lead prosecutor in the case, Domenica Gambardella, arranged for a translator to be on hand, and every so often the judge stopped so the translator could explain the proceedings to the students.

The students had the opportunity to see first-hand one of the major differences in how trials are conducted: defendants are held in cage-like cells.

“It was really helpful for the students to see that,” Tucker said.  “It’s a dramatic departure from what we do here in the U.S.”

There are other differences too.

“They are so much more laid-back than we are,” FitzGerald said. “For example, in the middle of the discussion between the prosecution and the defense, a third attorney comes down who is the equivalent of a president of a local bar association, and said we need to take a break for lunch. The judge said ‘sure, fine.’ Also, when the judges entered the courtroom, nobody stood. In our country if we didn’t stand up, it would have been considered disrespectful, to say the least.”

After wrapping up their stay in Salerno with a walking tour of the small city, the group headed to Rome for some major sight-seeing including the Vatican, the Coliseum, and the Spanish Steps, and then on to Florence to see the Uffizi, Duomo, and Academia.

“I think the two best parts have to be Rome and Florence,” said student Tom Powers ‘09, “But I’m a history buff, so just seeing the Vatican and the Coliseum was really powerful to me. The fact that these buildings and monuments are thousands of years old. …  It’s definitely a culture shock.”

“I think the exposure to another culture, overall, was the best thing about this trip. It definitely enhanced my understanding about the benefits and shortcomings of my own culture and the things that I’ve learned in school,” Colon said.