Undergraduate Criminal Justice Major Introduced

North Park Sociology Professor Dr. Frank Steinhart

CHICAGO (November 23, 2009) – If the popularity of crime dramas such as “CSI” and “Law & Order” isn’t enough to substantiate a growing interest in criminal justice, North Park professor of sociology Dr. Frank Steinhart can easily point to much more ubiquitous evidence.

“From airport scans to email intercepts, we live in a society significantly different than that of our parents,” says Steinhart, who notes that heightened concern for our security is likely a contributing factor.

But there are also academic reasons for the increased fascination, which have led North Park to introduce a new undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Although students will not be able to declare the major until next fall, coursework for the program is already available, Steinhart says. He is scheduled to teach Research Methods, one of the requirements. Other foundational classes for the degree include American Government, Introduction to Sociology, and Introduction to Statistics—prerequisites that will be offered this spring.

Like the rest of the University’s degree programs, this one will have a decidedly liberal arts focus. Nevertheless, Steinhart says, students who wish to become law enforcement officers would also be well served by a broad understanding of how criminal and social justice will affect their work.

“Our mission lies in looking at criminal justice in the liberal arts context, and thinking about the relationship between such things as juvenile justice, constitutional law, and even restorative justice,” Steinhart describes. “There is a huge scope for work in that area, ranging from Christian ministry, to various forms of social work, to various elements of the criminal court system.”

The idea of restorative justice is especially relevant amidst the doubts that many have about the effectiveness of the current system. While the government has been building prisons at a record pace, Steinhart says, that effort is unsustainable over the long term. Moreover, he adds, the “lock ’em up and throw away the key,” method has yet to be proven a viable strategy for maintaining social order.

“What, exactly, are we to do with all those ex-offenders who have been released from incarceration?” notes Steinhart. “How do we reengage them in society? Clearly we need to do that and, equally clearly, we are often not doing that very effectively…. Criminal justice is a complicated process with many links to other social structures and processes.”

Nearly all of the resources for the degree are already in place, and North Park Provost Dr. Joseph Jones, a criminologist who helped create two different criminal justice programs in his career, has been closely involved with the preparations. The University also introduced a criminal justice program in its School of Adult Learning last year, and although Steinhart says that program has a different thrust, there will likely be overlap in some of the coursework. Ultimately, Steinhart anticipates the degree will have longevity expressly because of its interdisciplinary nature.

“On the one hand, we will always need folks who provide security and who administer our courts or prisons,” he says. “On the other hand, this is not a narrow major. It blends sociology, politics and government, and criminal justice courses in ways that are very consistent with the liberal arts tradition. This really does look like a good fit for North Park.”


Photo: Dr. Frank Steinhart