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Outreach: Colleges to the Local Jails

In early April I had the privilege of traveling back to my alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Justice Educators (PACJE) conference. At the invitation of Dr. Kevin Courtright of the university’s Department of Criminal Justice, Anthropology and Forensics Studies, I participated in a panel discussion on corrections issues. I talked about several, including counteracting the myths about corrections that the public believes and the media portrayal of corrections, which in my opinion could be more objective. One topic that I discussed was how local colleges and local jails can work together to both enhance the education of college students and improve the image of the local jail. Having been a college adjunct instructor at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia for the past 30 years, I can speak from experience. During my teaching time there, I also worked at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center. It pleased me to see that Edinboro University is taking steps in that direction.

Many citizens do not have a clear picture of what the jail staff does, the stresses of the job or what they endure from the inmates. Shift work, violent inmates, contraband, escapes and mentally ill inmates are just some of the aspects of correctional work that are sobering when one considers the dangers of the job. In my seminars and criminal justice academy classes, I emphasize that corrections is an important part of the criminal justice system-the police lock up the criminals and the jails and prisons keep them locked up. Both police and corrections help keep the public safe.

This brings me to the local college. Most jails are located near a local college, either a four year institution or a two year community college. Most offer criminal justice courses. Many students major in criminal justice (CJ) with the goal of entering the law enforcement field-and this field includes corrections. Correctional officers strive for public safety-they enforce the laws and rules inside correctional facilities. They are law enforcement officers. Jails and local colleges can benefit from one another. If you are a college instructor, and plan to teach or are currently teaching corrections classes, here is some advice:

  • Offer courses in local corrections: jails, community corrections, etc.: Corrections covers a wide range of topics. New topics are welcome. This fall at GMU I am excited about teaching a new course I devised-Inmate Management.
  • Take advantage of local jail agencies’ desire for positive publicity: Most jails have a public information officer who will be glad to assist you. Jails want to put their best image out there for all to see.
  • Offer internships: This is probably the best way to introduce CJ students to the real world of corrections. These students can be very helpful in many tasks inside the facility. Usually a paper is required. I have had some great interns working inside the jail. As their faculty sponsor I discovered most were industrious and eager to learn.
  • We need research and data: We are in the ‘The ‘Golden Age of Corrections’: There are many great websites for both instructor and student. The Pew Research Center, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Justice Policy Institute, the Urban Policy Institute and the Council of State Governments all contain helpful data. Many universities have conducted studies about corrections facilities and offenders.
  • Combine research and reality: Require students to conduct some type of field research. Many students tend to fill papers with summaries of studies and statistics-they look impressive. But-explore how statistics translate to practicality in corrections. Field research involves students observing operations inside a corrections facility and interviewing personnel. You can require that a paper include discussions of actual jails/prisons, programs and personnel. Some students interview former inmates. It makes them seek out and experience corrections in practice. In my classes I require five examples of facility programs, operations, etc., to be included in a paper.
  • Include facility tours: Often these are logistically difficult-but try to make them happen. Jails have great guides and you will get your eyes opened.
  • Include correctional facility material: Many inmate handbooks, facility policies and orientation videos are available on line.
  • Discuss-responsibly-news events concerning inmates in local jails, correctional facilities and staff issues. Many news reports can be downloaded. Don’t use biased reports-use well researched, objective broadcasts.
  • Bring in guest speakers: COs, supervisors, counselors, mental health, rehab staff and reformed ex inmates all have experiences and information that adds interest and will keep the students focused.
  • Give extra credit for attending extracurricular events: Many colleges sponsor criminal justice speakers and seminars. Give students extra credit for attending them.

Hopefully these will grow into good partnerships between the jails and the colleges in the community. Corrections needs the data and research that is gathered by academe-and the current and next generations of criminal justice college students need to see corrections in practice. It is a win-win for all. The more educated students are about the corrections field, the better law enforcement officers and criminal justice professionals they will become.



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