Lifelong Learning

04/13/2017
Albert Einstein once said, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” Education may have once been considered for a fixed period that ended after high school or an undergraduate degree. The nation, though, is at a curious point in which a college degree seems to be the next high school diploma, and graduate school is the new college.

In many cases now, education is not a one-time thing. It might be needed for certification, it might be required for compliance, and it might be required for promotion, and as we saw in the Great Recession, it might be needed to change careers suddenly or unexpectedly. There has been a shift in the corrections market, says Terry Campbell, academic chair for the Undergrad-uate Criminal Justice Programs at Kaplan University. In the 1970s and ’80s, Campbell recalls, Correctional Officers (COs) were required to have a high school diploma, but the tide has changed, and more and more positions require higher education. Federal employers, for example, require correctional officers to have either a four-year college degree, three years of relevant field experience, or a combination of education and experience. When Campbell was a warden in Arkansas in the 1980s, he noted that there were only two wardens in the state with Master’s Degrees. Now it is commonplace.  Correctional Officers are often looking for upward mobility, and often those advancements require a college degree (such as probation and parole officers), and promotions don’t begin until the CO has served one to two years.

An issue arises, though: People working full-time have limited hours and options.  Many correctional facilities are in remote locations, and resources to attain these degrees and certificates might be limited. Campbell recalls driving 120 miles each way to get his Master’s Degree at a traditional brick and mortar university. Technology, though, has fixed that. There are numerous colleges and universities that offer degrees to both inmates and employees in correctional facilities and cover a range of subjects both in the criminal justice arena and out.

One of those universities is Kaplan, whose offerings are exclusively online. Kaplan offers certificates for crime scene technicians, management and supervision, and private security. They also offer Bachelor of Science degrees in both corrections and criminal justice. Corrections, Campbell points out, covers a broad spectrum and incorporates prisons, jails, juveniles, probation and parole as well as other leadership, legal, and ethical aspects of a career in the correctional field. The program is designed to develop knowledge and skill sets as to how correctional facilities function, including their hierarchies, regulations, and communications systems, security factors such as procedures and institutional policies, inmate protection, riot control, disarming weapon-bearing prisoners, social and facility disturbance management, and hostage negotiation. Considering the role correctional facilities have had to perform as a result of becoming the nation’s de facto mental health hospitals, the program also covers treatment opportunities available for offenders, treatment conditions upon release, counselors in corrections, community supervision, and training requirements. The program is relatively new, and the upperclassmen are now entering the upper level 300 and 400 level courses. Most of the instructors are practitioners and teach from experience.

Many students enrolled in criminal justice programs are current or former military. This experience is doubtlessly relevant in the field, and Patrick L. Bradley, Esq. Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Program Director at University of Maryland University College, notes that about 80% of UMUC’s student body meet that description.  Among the more than 90 degrees offered are those in criminal justice. Bradley notes that traditionally colleges and universities are about 80% on-site and 20% online. UMUC has reversed that, and most of their offerings are “almost exclusively online.” The primary Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice incorporates not only law enforcement but also corrections, court support, and the private security industry, so the program gives students the full scope of the criminal justice spectrum. This is important, he notes, because a class in leadership, for example, can show how it applies to criminal justice across the board. The same goes for victimization, ethics, and criminal investigation. Criminal investigations, he furthers, occur not only for police officers because crimes and investigations also occur in prisons and jails. As the program has evolved, many of the very specialized classes have been dropped with the critical material being absorbed into other classes to give the student a “rich yet broad exposure to criminal justice.”

One point of pride, says Bradley, is that the program exposes students to how the classes are applicable and consider current trends such as mental health, solitary confinement, and protecting officers (COs) outside of the facility. For example, if a CO is in a grocery store and a gang member approaches him or her and whispers, “I know who you are, and I know where you live,” an administrator would have training in how to train employees to deal with this. “The degree prepares a student to compete.”
Since so many students are current or former military, an added benefit is that they can complete the program from anywhere. “They can start in Okinawa and finish in Davenport.” As long as there is access to the Internet, students can attend classes.

There is also a Master’s Degree in Management with a specialty in Criminal Justice. Bradley, point out that a few years ago there was a correctional corruption scandal in the Baltimore jail. Eighty people, including 18 COs were indicted. On March 1, 2017, seven Baltimore police officers were charged in a racketeering scandal. Bradley compares the situation to a moldy basement. The idea is that the mold is not cleaned up and then the problem is solved. It requires constant attention. “The principles of law enforcement officers and correctional officers are the same. There is a lot of symmetry. Can an administrator appreciate and recognize this sort of cycle?” Collaboration and corroboration are key. If a deputy realizes that there is a spike in crime, and that spike is caused by recidivists, that deputy will need to recognize that and discuss the matter with probation, parole, and the facilities. Departments have to work together, he says, so that philosophy has been fused into the course work.

California Coast University (CCU), in Santa Ana, Calif., also bases its success on their commitment to integrating professional experience with academic content. CCU provides programs that are independent, individualized, and self-paced. This cultivates “intellectual, analytical and critical abilities to help students meet the demands of today’s ever changing environment.” The faculty and staff are composed of dedicated, respected educators and professionals. CCU continuously evaluates and improves their programs and educational materials. This provides “a pathway to encourage students to value and pursue life-long learning experiences.”

As Einstein said, intellectual growth should be lifelong. On a July night in 2016, a St. Paul Public School employee named Philandro Castile was allegedly shot and killed by Officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights, Minn., a suburb of St. Paul. The incident received national exposure not only because it was in the midst of several other deaths involving African American men and law enforcement but because it was live streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend. Minnesota requires 48 credit hours of continuing training every three years to retain peace officer licensure. The training, which is done online, was developed by the League of Minnesota Cities, a “membership organization dedicated to promoting excellence in local government.” The mandatory training includes, among other courses, Personal Protective Equipment, Hearing Conserva-tion, Use of Deadly Force, Use of Force Legal Issues, and Hazardous Materials Awareness Training. The Roseville Police Department requires more than the mandatory including Readiness Aspects, Use of Force, Implicit Bias 1 and 2, and Firearms Laws 1 and 2. Rick Mathwig is the Police Chief of the Roseville agency. He discussed the shooting and the training at a community forum.

Castile was shot in Falcon Heights, a suburb between St. Paul and Roseville, by a police officer from St. Anthony ( a third suburb), and Castile’s  girlfriend went to the Roseville Police Department.  It was the Roseville police that happened to be the backup for the St. Anthony police officer. The issue is that they also contract out for coverage with St. Anthony police as well as Falcon Heights and some other local suburbs and Minneapolis.  Those other teams are not required to get additional continuing education every year, but they come into the Roseville community for policing. Yanez is charged with second degree manslaughter. The trial is set to begin on May 30.

The future for corrections can be a bright one, says Bradley, but he wishes there was more positive coverage in the media and that there was a deeper appreciation for the skills a CO with a college degree brings to the table. Most 12 year olds, he says, don’t dream of growing up and being a correctional officer. “Corrections can be a great career and a great way to serve.” It is a good middle class job, and it serves the community. Despite a downward trend in crime, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is expected to be a 4% growth in these jobs between 2014 and 2024, and the medium income is $45,320. Federal Correctional Officers make about $53,210.