Indiana State University Newsroom

Criminology students see first-hand how Eastern European, American prisons differ

June 14, 2013

As college students from the American Midwest began their visit to a medium security prison in Eastern Europe, they were immediately struck by the contrasts to the many correctional facilities located outside small towns in their home states of Indiana and Illinois.

"They had a fence that was about five feet tall with no barbed wire around it and no guard towers," said Jordan Isaacs of Terre Haute, who is in the second-year of a master's degree program in criminology and criminal justice.

"People are free to move around. They can do their own thing, for the most part, as long as they are within the confines of the grounds," said Derek Pigecella, who completed a master's degree this spring and plans to pursue a Ph.D. "It is unlike anything we have over here."

Isaacs and Pigecella were among several students from Indiana State University who spent two weeks in May taking part in an exchange program with the University of Zagreb that is designed to educate students from Croatia and the United States about the differences in the two countries' criminal justice systems.

Once inside the Lipovica Correctional Institution's fence - a structure that seemed no more intimidating than those surrounding some suburban homes - the Indiana State students found even more differences.

"The whole prison was self-sustaining. They grew their own vegetables and slaughtered their own meat," said Desiree Huebner, a senior nursing major from Noblesville. But as the students got to know more about how the Croatian correctional system works, they discovered huge ideological differences.

"It's not an apples-to-apples comparison but they take more of a rehabilitation approach instead of just the "lock people down" approach, said Isaacs. "They offer education and work opportunities."

Emily Price of Oblong, Ill., who completed a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice in May and will start work this fall toward a master's degree, was struck by the number of females studying criminology in Croatia.

"There were 31 Croatian students and only one of them was a guy. That's the opposite of my classes here," she said.

The study abroad trip to Croatia was Price's second international journey in as many years.

"Last spring, I studied in Costa Rica and it really opened my eyes to how different parts of the world are compared to the United States. It made me more knowledgeable about other countries so maybe you don't judge them so quickly."

One member of the Indiana State delegation, Princess Cross of Gary, a May graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminology, was struck by the homogeneity of the Croatian prison - among guards as well as offenders - and appreciated being exposure to Eastern European languages.

"Being one of the few African-American students on the trip, I saw some things differently than most of my colleagues," she said. I did like the idea of trying to interpret different languages. I really didn't master it but at the same time I understood the gist of it so that was good."

The exchange program between Indiana State and the University of Zagreb has been in place since 2005 and serves as a way for Indiana State students, who generally come from Indiana and Illinois, and Zagreb students to be exposed to other cultures, said Sudipto Roy, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State.

"Most of our students are from this locality so it's good exposure for them," Roy said. "They really need that kind of exposure. It enhances your outlook for the world. Plus, when you are going to Croatia or other countries and studying any aspect of the criminal justice system you learn so many things."

In addition to the prison visit, students on this year's trip also visited the police academy, police directorate, and a police precinct (all in Zagreb), Roy noted.

Croatian citizen Maja Mladineo had a class at the University of Zagreb with Indiana State students in 2009. The following year, she chose to enroll at Indiana State to pursue a master's degree in criminology and criminal justice and completed her degree this spring.Mladineo validated the Indiana State students' impressions of the Croatian criminal justice system.

While she was familiar with the American system before enrolling at Indiana State, Mladineo said she was still shocked to see U.S. prisons first hand.

"We put more of an accent on rehabilitation; the whole approach is more humane," she said. "Here (in the U.S.), most of the money and the whole focus is on security. A really small percentage is being focused on treatment."

Mladineo believes treatment and education offer the best long-term solution to fighting crime and reducing prison populations.

Not only does Croatia have no death penalty, life in prison is not an option - even for the most serious offenses, she said, noting the maximum sentence in Croatia is 40 years."I don't think inmates here are being prepared for going out at all and that's why you have what you have - just recycling them over and over again in the criminal justice system."

Each Indiana State student received a "Completion of Course" certificate from the University of Zagreb at a reception organized by Ljiljana Miksaj-Todorovic, dean of the faculty of education and rehabilitation Sciences on May 31.

Photo: - Indiana State University students visited Ban Jelacic Square in Zagreb during a study abroad visit to Croatia to learn first-hand the differences between the criminal justice systems of Croatia and the United States. Jelacic fought for Croatian autonomy from Austria and Hungary and was ruler of Croatia from 1848 to 1859.

Photo: - Indiana State University students took a class at the University of Zagreb during a study abroad trip to learn first-hand the differences between the criminal justice systems of Croatia and the United States.

Contact: Sudipto Roy, professor of criminology and criminal justice, Indiana State University, 812-237-2198 or

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or