14 ways to connect criminal justice studies to real-world reform: Part 1

In March, 14 criminal justice scholars and SAGE Junior Faculty Professional Development Teaching Award winners traveled to Denver to attend the SAGE Professional Development Teaching Workshop. Kicking off the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) annual meeting, the workshop provided a platform where attendees shared top teaching strategies and participated in sessions designed to enhance teaching skills.

Seeking insight from our award winners, we asked them the following question:

“How do you encourage your students to connect what they learn in class to real-world issues related to criminal justice reform?”

We’re pleased to share their answers here on Connection as a three-part series. Read the first installment below.

C Telep HeadshotResized

Cody Telep

“One of my favorite parts about teaching in a criminology department is the applicability of course material to criminal justice policy and practice. My undergraduate crime policy class examines whether various crime control strategies are effective in reducing crime and reoffending. I encourage students to connect our discussions to the real world of criminal justice practice through going on police ride-alongs, observing court proceedings, interning with state or local criminal justice agencies, and by being well-informed criminal justice professionals after graduation. In my master’s class on criminal justice organizations and administration, many of the students are law enforcement practitioners. The final paper on managing change and innovation is a great opportunity for students to apply course material to real issues in their agencies and think about how to more successfully implement reform efforts.” – Cody Telep, Assistant Professor, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Arizona State University


Joseph Schwartz

“In an effort to encourage a more thorough understanding of the material and ultimately contribute to policy formation and reformation, my courses emphasize empirical research and critical thinking.  Students are encouraged to formulate their own opinion regarding each of the topics covered in class, but they are challenged to understand opposing viewpoints and defend their opinion using objective, empirical criteria as opposed to subjective or personal experiences.  Far too often, students are not challenged to develop critical thinking skills and are simply asked to restate ideas or concepts that have already been developed without any thought to the contrary.  Regardless of whether students agree with the existing knowledgebase is of little concern; rather, I am more interested in assisting students in understanding why they feel the way they do about the subject material.  I apply this logic to my courses by stressing the importance of thinking critically about crime and human behavior and to rely on empirical evidence to guide students’ thinking and intellectual development.  When encouraged to use empirical evidence to evaluate the etiological development of antisocial and criminal behaviors, students are forced to think critically about their own explanations and whether they are objectively valid.  Learning to evaluate and appraise information empirically is an important tool that prepares students for more advanced classes and for entrance into the workforce.”-Joseph Schwartz, Assistant Professor, School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Nebraska, Omaha

Julie Hibdon, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Julie Anne Hibdon

“I like to give writing assignments where students have to be critical of current research and go beyond the traditional research paper.  In my victims of crime class, I task students with completing three critical article reviews.  In my crime prevention class, I make the writing assignment applied in that they are tasked with making recommendations to a criminal justice agency on the best practices for a crime issue of concern.  I’ve found this type of exercise accomplishes a few objectives.  First, it exposes students to research.  Second, it allows them to see the difficulties of conducting research as well as implementing new approaches.  Furthermore, it tasks them with applying research to real-world issues and forces them to think more broadly about the impact on criminal justice agencies and people involved in the criminal justice system.” – Julie Anne Hibdon, Assistant Professor, Southern Illinois University


Lauren Copley

“I utilize a number of documentaries to complement course texts to highlight certain issues and give my students a “real life” example of concepts and systemic problems. This piques their interest and fuels their desire to better the system in their future careers (and hopefully while also a student). Often, they cannot believe such instances of injustice have occurred here in the US and share their reactions and information with other students and their friends. In addition, I hope to be able to engage my students with an Arkansas Supreme Court’s project for the state’s Juvenile Justice Reform Subcommittee to gather valuable data for improving risk assessments and youth placement.” -Lauren Copley, Ph.D., Visiting Assistant Professor, Dept. of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Arkansas


Forrest R. Rodgers

“In my classes, we use many cases of injustice that are highlighted in the media as a way to connect to empirical literature on race/ethnicity, crime, and criminal justice.  This is achieved by using case study analysis, in-class discussions, and group activities. By doing this, students are able to understand the importance of these individual cases as they relate to criminal justice research.”-Forrest R. Rodgers, (Tenure-Track) Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Salem State University

Check back next week, when we will publish part 2.

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