Why Criminal Justice? Why Concordia, Saint Paul?
Brought to you by Concordia University, St. Paul – Criminal Justice Department
Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice
The criminal justice system comprises a vast array of careers, from policing, the legal field, corrections, working with victims, etc., all stemming back to the discipline of Criminal Justice. Criminal Justice, a parallel discipline to Criminology, focuses on bringing the academic and real world together. Historically, the Criminology and Criminal Justice disciplines evolved from studying social deviance and crime in sociology. Sociology is a broad discipline spanning numerous societal topics, including deviance and crime. However, in the growing society, there was a need for a more focused discipline relating to crime and persons who engage in crime. Criminology, therefore, became the focus. In today’s society, we need more investigation into the discipline and material and how it relates to real-world applications, which is where a discipline in Criminal Justice becomes an imperative field of study.
Criminal Justice, a social and behavioral science, focuses on everything sociology and criminology could; for example, Criminal Justice examines theories, criminal law, policing, delinquency, etc. but takes it a step further by bridging the course content to real criminal justice system components. Criminal Justice provides insights into the theoretical frameworks, the major concepts, and constructs, and the various populations that are served examine the many careers within the criminal justice system and bridges academia into the practical world of a criminal justice profession. This bridging of the academic environment to real-world applications makes a Criminal Justice degree unique and full of opportunities.
Careers in Criminal Justice
As mentioned above, there are numerous unique career opportunities within the criminal justice system, all of which stem from the major working parts – Law Enforcement, Courts, and Corrections. Beyond what some might think, the criminal justice system spans a wide range of diverse careers and responsibilities, making it a fascinating and rewarding career field. For example, careers can include policing, working with at-risk populations, corrections, and the legal field. In an ever-changing world, the criminal justice system is not immune to the many changes all of society is experiencing. The differing career opportunities allow the criminal justice system to evolve and remain a competitive professional field. To discuss the many available options, it is essential to note that this is not an exhaustive list nor contains complete descriptions of each position. Still, the following breakdown provides some insight into various careers within the criminal justice system.
The most visible profession in the criminal justice system is law enforcement. This sector includes municipal, county, state, tribal, and federal policing. In the United States, state and federal-level policing have differing requirements to be eligible for law enforcement. Minnesota’s law enforcement profession is dictated to and operated by the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (MN POST). The MN POST Board requires the needed objectives to be eligible for the police licensure exam. Two and 4-year colleges and universities need to become POST-certified to offer this eligibility to incoming students. Colleges and universities without the capability of providing the unique physical, practical, and tactical skills (named in MN as SKILLS) required for law enforcement training have a contract with a 2-year institution that provides the SKILLS component. Most 4-year universities have this particular contract in place to provide POST eligibility. On the federal level, the requirements are set by each federal agency but generally consist of needed academic-related and practical skills education.
In addition to the licensed or sworn-in police officer positions, many agencies also have civilian (non-sworn-in/non-licensed) positions. These positions often range from:
- clerical, dispatch, CSO, Reserves, Cadet work to community liaison positions
- technical and technology-related assistance
- policing and crime-related assistance
Some agencies might even include a department devoted to forensic science, where individuals assist in collecting and collecting crime scene evidence. Therefore, forensic science and information technology (i.e., cybercrime) are additional career opportunities for criminal justice majors to consider when determining criminal justice interests.
The court system is the next sector containing a variety of career opportunities. Among the most known are lawyers and judges. Judges in the courtroom sit in and hear cases within the court system. Lawyers consist of both prosecuting and defense attorneys. There are county, state, and federal attorneys and judges. In addition, defense attorneys may work for private firms as well. All attorneys and judges require additional education beyond an undergraduate degree and require the degree of Juris Doctor completed through an accredited law school that allows students to be eligible to take the Bar Exam.
In addition to attorneys and judges in the courtroom, there are also additional persons. Such as:
- law clerks
- clerical workers
- probation and parole officers
- pretrial diversion workers
- social workers, etc.
Again, this list does not include every possible position available within the court system but rather is a representation of other court professionals who are all involved in the interworkings of the court system.
The next known sector of the criminal justice system is the corrections system. The corrections system ranges from pre and post-sentencing in the courts to post-release. Therefore, it includes:
- pretrial diversion
- corrections officers
- prison counselor/psychologist
- in-prison programming
- desistance from crime
- and parole or supervised release.
Most of these require a minimum of an undergraduate degree or higher (i.e., prison psychologist). The one exception would be the position of corrections officer in the state of Minnesota. However, an undergraduate degree would go a long way in the corrections officer position and be an excellent tool for working with other criminal justice organizations, officers, and inmates.
A lesser-known area of the criminal justice system is non-profit organizations that work with many criminal justice system-involved persons and/or victims. Some areas of non-profit include programs and organizations dedicated to:
- diversion services
- community corrections
- victim services
- substance abuse issues, etc.
Diversion consists of the pretrial action that puts offenders (typically low-level and first-time offenders) on an alternative to punishment or confinement and aims to work with the individual to help treat the behavior. The idea behind diversion is that the service diverts the individual away from any criminal justice system involvement stigma to influence more pro-social skills and desistance. Re-entry services work with inmates coming out of prison or jail and assist the individual in finding housing, employment, treatment centers and/or counselors, behavior modification needs, etc., which, again, influence pro-social skills and desistance. Rehabilitation programs primarily focus on behavior modification and substance abuse issues. Community Corrections programs are alternatives to incarceration or confinement and might include electronic monitoring or programming influencing pro-social skills. Victim services are an area of non-profit organizations that work with victims of crimes, for example, victims of sexual assault or misconduct or domestic and child abuse. The non-profit sector of the criminal justice system is a critical support to the overall system itself. It allows for alternatives and influences individuals to stop their criminal behaviors, restore themselves to society, and help clear congestion within the criminal justice system.
Academica and Research
Lastly, another lesser area of the criminal justice system is research and the pursuit of graduate-level education. Starting with graduate-level education, this would not only be applicable to research or working at a university or institution, becoming a criminologist, but it also relates to and helps those on the practitioner side of the criminal justice system by allowing them to seek career advancement, new opportunities, seek intriguing problem-solving techniques, etc. Research and graduate-level education lead to more evidence-based practices within the criminal justice system, which helps practitioners target goals, address challenges, and implement programming and initiatives that are both efficient and effective. In academia, research and graduate-level education allow one to stay current with trends and patterns in the criminal justice system to best inform students pursuing degrees to be prepared to enter their career field.
Concordia, Saint Paul (CSP) has consistently been a leading institution ahead of the curve in keeping up with trends and forecasting its curriculum related to various career fields. Their criminal justice program is no different. The Criminal Justice program at CSP is a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree consisting of 45 credits. All courses are 4-credits each, except their Experiential Learning & Career Experience Course, which is 1-credit. CSP’s BA in Criminal Justice has been intentionally set up with career-readiness skillsets, a core CJ curriculum needed for understanding the criminal justice system and its career opportunities, and practical applications built throughout each course, bridging the classroom material to real-world situations and scenarios. CSP’s Department of Criminal Justice understands the imperative needs of the Criminal Justice System industry. The department enhanced outdated pedagogy for the discipline and ensured the material learned in the course is not structured as a memorizing & regurgitate that causes many students to forget material each week as the class progresses. Instead, the department focuses on implementing discussions, practical application exercises, and meaningful and relevant assignments and allows students to focus on the material and expand it to the career field. This will enable students to utilize the material as a tool when working in the criminal justice system.
CSP’s Department of Criminal Justice is committed to ensuring students succeed in the program and excel in skills needed for the criminal justice system industry. The department intentionally created an advisory board of stakeholders using regular meetings to inform the robust implementation of current CJS needs and trends. The department analyzes the results of each session thoroughly and meaningfully and creatively enhances course material and objectives. In addition, the department stays abreast of changes in the MN POST Board objectives and makes changes as needed, along with partnering with other POST-certified institutions to best serve our students seeking MN law enforcement licensure. CSP’s Department of Criminal Justice is actively involved in various areas of the Criminal Justice System, such as but not limited to professional organizations, added training, committees, research & publication, etc. to help make recommendations, informed changes to our curriculum, and support existing and seeking-to-be CJS career practitioners.
The Bachelor of Arts Criminal Justice major at CSP is comprised of a two-track major – the first track is the MN POST Eligibility Track, and the second track is the NON-POST Track. The MN POST Eligibility Track is designated for students seeking a career in law enforcement and policing, whether local, county, state, tribal, or federal level law enforcement. This track follows the MN POST Certified Objectives and prepares students for their POST academic objectives, a certified SKILLS program following graduation, and then prepares students for the MN POST Licensing Examination. Students interested in federal-level law enforcement, although not required to complete MN POST Certification and Licensing, will select this track as it allows them to focus on their federal-level policing career interest. The NON-POST Track is designated for any student not seeking policing or law enforcement as a career. This track would include students pursuing a career in probation & parole, diversion, non-profit work, social work, re-entry programming, corrections, etc., and also consists of those students who are already MN licensed police officers who are seeking completion of their Bachelor’s degree earning continuing education credits through POST.
Another program highlight to CSP’s Criminal Justice major is that we offer our program in face-to-face traditional and accelerated asynchronous online delivery. Students can complete the entire program in the delivery of their choice or as a hybrid delivery, taking both face-face and online courses if they choose. The online delivery is ideal for students who are already working in the criminal justice system seeking their bachelor of arts degree or students who are actively engaging in full-time CJS engagement, whether employment, internships, or other additional experiences. The face-face delivery is ideal for students who prefer face-face instruction and working with other students in a classroom setting. Our face-face delivery, however, is enhanced further with a strong online learning management system structure – this allows students and faculty to heavily utilize technological advances in our learning management system while also continuing the traditional face-face level of classroom learning. Therefore, whether online or face-face, all coursework is at students’ fingertips at any given time, regardless of delivery. Another advantage to the program offering both delivery systems is that students can seamlessly transition from one delivery to another. For example, this is an advantage for students who gain new employment opportunities that directly relate to their career interest and gives them real working experience, but, perhaps, their new schedule does not allow them to attend classes face-face anymore – the student can transition to the online delivery in the next semester and move forward with the online delivery.
The last highlight is the program’s final project. The project consists of an experiential learning and an electronic professional website portfolio. Throughout the program, students are encouraged to gain hands-on experience in their field of interest or pursue professional development experiences to set themselves apart from other candidates. This experiential learning can range from a traditional-style internship to volunteering to current or past experience working in a criminal justice system capacity, research, training, certificates, and more. The setup of this final program project is intentional. It allows students to explore more than one opportunity and gain as much experience and hands-on knowledge as possible instead of traditional internship-style courses that hold students to one particular experience scheduled between specific dates. We fully support and encourage our students to seek any career-related opportunities they can, allowing them to gain insight quicker into the reality of their career of interest and how their academic work can impact and support their goals. Students develop their own professional website portfolio in the program’s first course. During their time at CSP, they are prompted to add assignments and projects to their site and continuously work on building it. By the program’s final course, they are finalizing their professional portfolio website by completing the remainder of the requirements, including their experiential learning experiences. This online portfolio is something tangible that students walk away with at the end of their program. They can share their site with potential or current employers and can expand the use of this portfolio to their own professional development goals beyond CSP. The significant part of the portfolio is that the student gets to showcase all the hard work they did during their time at CSP, make something their own, and brand themselves professionally for their career.
CSP Criminal Justice Program Mission and Promise to Students
“The Mission of Concordia University, Saint Paul’s Department of Criminal Justice promotes creative problem-solving, servant-oriented thought-leaders.”
Our Promise is to serve YOU. We are dedicated to providing you a program as a future-forward-thinker, preparing you to engage as community leaders, fostering relationships and community partnerships, and preparing you as a CJS practitioner who is culturally and globally aware and ready for YOUR career upon graduation.
Pursuing a Criminal Justice degree at Concordia University, Saint Paul, will help you reach Your Dream and become the Criminal Justice Practitioner our Society Needs.
About the Author:
Dr. Beth Glynn Chambers is an assistant professor of criminal justice at Concordia University, Saint Paul in the Department of Criminal Justice, teaching a variety of criminal justice related courses. She is the faculty advisor to the criminal justice traditional delivery students, the faculty advisor to the Criminal Justice and Sociology student-led club, and is currently serving as the MN Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)/PPOE coordinator for the university. Dr. Chambers is the co-founder of and is involved in Concordia’s Criminal Justice Systems Advisory Board. She holds professional memberships in the American Correctional Association, American Society of Criminology, American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies, and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association. In addition, she is a member of Alpha Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, and of Sigma Alpha Pi, the National Society of Leadership and Success.