SPSSI Teaching Resources Award: Parole/Probation Assignment
Alexandra M. Zidenberg, King's University College at Western University
As part of teaching PSY 230 (Criminal Behaviour), Brandon and I noticed that many of the students in the class had never engaged with the criminal justice system and often relied on media coverage and political rhetoric to inform their perceptions of the justice system and the individuals within it. Due to their lack of experience and narrow point of reference, students were especially critical of parole, viewing it as a “soft punishment” and had a hard time perspective-taking with people who were on it. We thus created a new experiential assignment to offer students a contrasting outlook on the parole experience and how it can impact one’s day-to-day functioning and well-being. In it, we asked students to imagine that they were on parole and follow a minimum of three chosen conditions for a week. These conditions are provided in the instructions and are based on common parole/probation conditions in North America. Students are then asked to reflect on their experiences, discuss how justice-involved persons experiences may differ (e.g., they may have fewer resources) and provide a brief literature review on whether there is evidence to support the conditions as promoting reintegration or preventing recidivism. The goal of this assignment is not to write a large research paper but to encourage students to actively engage with the class materials and to consider the factors that might help or hinder justice-involved individuals through reflection while also providing an opportunity to develop their research and literature review skills, which feature heavily in a later assignment in the course. We decided to implement this assignment as we felt that it would be a fun way for students to engage with class materials and would help them to extend their understanding of the class material to the real world.
As forensic psychology is a highly applied field, it is sensible to offer students opportunities to take part in experiential learning projects and activities. There is also high demand from students and plenty of evidence that they are useful experience (Belisle et al., 2020; Calaway et al., 2016; Crandall et al., 2021; George et al., 2015; Hiller et al., 2014; Murphy & Gibbons, 2017; Stacer et al., 2017). While this assignment obviously does not exactly replicate the experience of being on parole/probation, the assignment is also based on a rich pedagogical and theoretical backing of role plays and reflective writing in order to enhance empathy and diversity viewpoints (Howes et al., 2009; Scheidegger, 2019; Webster, 2010; Wellbery et al., 2017). Based on the work that students have produced, we feel that we have been successful in reaching our goals of encouraging perspective taking and empathy among students. Students have produced high-quality, in-depth assignments that have explored their experiences abiding by these conditions. Additionally, students report learning from the assignment, enjoying the assignment, and being willing to recommend the use of the assignment for future classes.