Daily Egyptian

Letter to the editor: Who we are and what we are not

Daily Egyptian file photo

Daily Egyptian file photo

The Daily Egyptian has recently served as an important forum for information and debate regarding Chancellor Carlo Montemagno’s proposed campus realignment plan. While we collectively and individually have our own thoughts about the reorganization, and have no intention of advocating a position here, we would like to clarify the role of an academic criminology and criminal justice unit within our university.

As faculty in one of the largest degree-granting units on campus and one of only about 45 universities in the United States to offer a comprehensive range of degree offerings (B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.), we were dismayed by remarks recently published in the Daily Egyptian that suggested we produce “hyper-militarized Stormtroopers,” “pump out more cops,” and “cater … to the police state.”

It is quite possible that these terms were directed specifically at a proposed police academy (a separate unit) but, as a degree program that graduates many students interested in careers in local, state and federal law enforcement, we could not help but feel that our program and its students and alumni were at least partially the target of these comments.

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Let us briefly correct the record. Our program, like many others nationwide, dates back to the early 1960s, a period when reformers saw the value of academic criminal justice as a means of improving the quality of the criminal justice system.

Individuals like Myrl Alexander, Elmer Johnson and Tom Murton (see Robert Redford’s character in “Brubaker”) focused on the quality of the corrections system. Their legacy remains today, though with an expanded focus to include all areas of criminology and criminal justice. Faculty members conduct research, produce books and journal articles and secure external funding in areas related to procedural justice, crime prevention, street gangs, juvenile delinquency, bullying, leadership and management, social movements, crime and place, offender assessment, comparative criminology and criminal justice, homeland security and war crimes. Our course offerings are equally broad.

The program is not vocational in nature; students learn neither tactical driving techniques nor marksmanship.  They study the causes of crime, the nature and development of law and society’s response to law-breaking. Students learn research, writing and critical thinking skills so they can enter the field with an appreciation for knowledge grounded in evidence-based research.

We do not simply prepare students to become part of the criminal justice apparatus. We encourage them to challenge deeply-held beliefs about system operations and search for alternative solutions to issues of crime in society.  Space prevents us from providing more than a brief list of examples to illustrate these points:

  1. Students learn about the effects of mass incarceration on society, neighborhoods and individuals. They develop an appreciation for the collateral consequences of a conviction (or even contact with the criminal justice system) on job prospects, voting, housing and other areas of life, all of which have implications for future criminality. Many of our students have volunteered their time at Summit of Hope events to help parolees transition from incarceration into the community.
  2. Our courses stress what works in preventing crime but also consider broader outcome indicators such as fear, institutional legitimacy, and trust in authorities. Hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students went door-to-door in high crime areas of St. Louis County and Springfield, Illinois, gathering data and hearing resident perceptions of police practices.
  3. The role of extra-legal factors (e.g., age, race, sex and ethnicity) are pervasive above and beyond legal factors (seriousness of the offense, prior record, strength of evidence) at decision points within the criminal justice system so relevant research is covered across the curriculum. In addition, students study the efficacy of options for addressing system biases (e.g., eliminating cash bail; developing valid prediction instruments).
  4. Our curriculum also emphasizes the fact that crime prevention and control can be achieved through non-criminal justice system means (e.g., neighborhoods, schools). For instance, one class recently spent an entire semester with a Carbondale apartment complex property manager applying principles of crime prevention through environment design, ultimately providing the manager with recommendations for changing physical and social aspects of the property.

These are but a few examples of how we prepare students to enter a complex and changing world, ready to serve as change agents. We are proud of our more than 1,000 alumni members who hold positions in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  Joining them are recent Ph.D. graduates working in positions at Lander University, University of Minnesota-Duluth and California State University-Fresno. We look forward to the next group of students ready to make a difference in the world.

Bryan Bubolz, Sujung Cho, Matthew Giblin, Julie Hibdon, Daniel Hillyard, Tammy Kochel, Daryl Kroner, Christopher Mullins, Raymund Narag, Breanne Pleggenkuhle and Joseph Schafer are professors in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

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