OGDEN, Utah – This May, 33 Weber State University students are going to prison, thanks to their professor Bruce Bayley. Once they arrive, a riot is expected to break out.
Bayley is leading a group of WSU criminal justice students on a trip to Moundsville, W.Va., for a four-day mock prison riot training exercise held at a decommissioned state penitentiary. The annual event, which is supported by the National Institute of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and U.S. Department of Justice, attracts more than 1,700 correctional facility officers, law enforcement and military personnel from around the nation, and from as far away as China, the Bahamas and Europe.
This is the fourth year in a row that Bayley has taken a delegation of WSU students to the exercise, where they have the chance to role play with these professionals.
“We are the only university in the country that offers criminal justice students the opportunity to participate in this exercise for its duration,” Bayley said. A couple of community colleges in Ohio and West Virginia do take part, but only for a day at a time.
A former corrections officer in Sonoma County, Calif., Bayley approached event organizers about allowing college students to attend the exercises previously reserved exclusively for corrections personnel. Student interest has grown during the last four years, from just one student attending in 2008, to 16 in 2009. Last year the number jumped to 28, including some repeat participants.
“In four days students see and do things that people who work their entire career in corrections never get to see and do. It’s all hands-on. The experiences available are just fantastic,” Bayley said.
As part of the exercise, teams of actual corrections personnel participate in mock disturbances, such as cell extractions, shower area fights and all-out yard riots. While the basic premise of the scenarios remains the same, Bayley said every experience is different because the personalities on the teams change and they use different technologies and techniques.
While students aren’t allowed to be part of the teams, they volunteer to play the roles of inmates or hostages. They often get to meet with the team both before and after the exercise. During post-exercise debriefings, team members ask the students for feedback on what techniques and approaches were most effective and why.
“The officers don’t pull any punches,” Bayley said. “Students get to hear candid feedback from actual corrections personnel.”
Safety officers monitor each exercise and “if things get too rambunctious, they halt the scenario and remind everyone it’s just an exercise,” said Bayley. He described the sessions as “a free-for-all in a very controlled environment.”
In addition to the exercises, students may participate in all the same training as the corrections personnel. The event also features a technology center where students get to see new technologies that are just in the development phase.
This year, WSU students will serve as biotechnology role players to help the Department of Homeland Security evaluate new technologies designed to locate and identify known threats in a crowd.
The Department of Criminal Justice offers the course as a three credit, upper-division course or it can count toward master’s credit. The last two years, students spent part of their time collecting data for research Bayley was conducting. This year, students will assist in collecting data for a graduate student who is doing a study on stress with Correctional Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
Student feedback about the class ranges from “It was a blast. Who knew getting shot was so much fun?” to complaining about not having enough time to do everything they wanted. For some, the experience helps them decide to pursue a career in corrections.
“I had a group of five women attend last year,” Bayley said. “When they got back, they told me, ‘Before the riot, we thought we wanted to do this. Afterward, we know we want to do this.’”
For more information about the mock prison riot program, visit mockprisonriot.org.
Visit weber.edu/wsutoday for more news about Weber State University.
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