By Joel Hall
The Clayton State University criminal justice program is preparing to send its third group of students to South Africa to study the country's legal system. Starting July 3, 11 students will spend one month interning with South African law enforcement officials, municipal leaders, prosecutors, and judges.
In a few years, the unique study abroad program has become one of the college's most well attended, according to Hamin Shabazz, a criminal justice professor at Clayton State and director of the program. He said prior to the South Africa internship program, the university offered no study abroad programs specifically for criminal justice students.
"Today's students need a global education because the United States is a melting pot," Shabazz said. "It's important that students dealing with any major have an international perspective. Our program is geared toward looking at the criminal justice systems - particularly of South Africa - in a comparative way. They not only get to study it, but they get to see it and work with it, in action."
From July 3 to Aug. 3, students will intern with the South African Police Service, the Republic of South Africa Department of Corrections, the Office of the Mayor of Pretoria, South Africa, and the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa. Throughout the course of the internship, students will rotate through every division of a particular agency, according to Shabazz.
"Typically, students don't get to see how decisions are made in a law enforcement agency," he said. "They [students] will get to sit in on high-level meetings. They are going to go from arrests, all the way through courts. They would observe an arrest, that individual will be booked, and they will take them through the whole process."
Forest Park native Gary Heisterkamp is a rising senior at Clayton State with hopes of attending law school. A participant in the South Africa study abroad program, Heisterkamp said he is interested to see how the American justice system compares to the systems of another country.
"We do have a pretty good system," he said. "Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. I want to see if there is a disparity in other countries, or if there are disparities here. Do the people over there have the same rights that we have over here, and if they don't, what's the difference?
"I would like to see it from beginning to end ... not from a textbook, but actually seeing it," Heisterkamp said.
Shabazz said South Africa's history and the establishment of a new constitution in 1994 after the fall of Apartheid (a system of institutionalized segregation) has created a unique criminal justice system worth studying.
"They [the government] had to change that relationship that scarred the community, in regards to the Apartheid era," Shabazz said. "The focus of the criminal [justice] system here is punishment. The whole focus of the constitution of South Africa is to concentrate on rehabilitating those who have gone to jail, because they know they are going to get out. In pockets of America, you find where community policing is in place, but it is not universally implemented. The whole idea for [the South African] police is to get to know their neighbors."
John Parkerson, director of International Programs at Clayton State, said he is "pleased at the growth of the [South Africa] program and the content." He said he hopes the program will continue to grow and eventually include other disciplines.
"I can't think of anywhere else in the world where students can have that kind of international exposure," Parkerson said. "It's pretty clear to Clayton State University that this is the kind of hands-on education that no student can get in the classroom. It's a program we believe will be long term."