As instructors in higher education, the goal is to challenge students' intellectual passivity and encourage them to take charge of their own thinking and learning. In light of this philosophy, instructors work hard to structure classroom experiences to foster such critical thinking and intellectual autonomy in students. But classroom preparation and training in the field of criminal justice are not enough to cultivate intellectual independence-there is also the importance of experiential learning to consider. Criminal justice as a public service is rich with experiential learning opportunities--such as internships, community projects, service learning and practica. Experiential education can enrich students' learning by requiring them to take both an active role in and personal accountability for their education (Ryan and Cassidy, 1996). As such, experiential learning, usually in the form of an internship, has become an integral component of the criminal justice undergraduate academic experience--and more broadly, each student's path toward intellectual independence.
Internships offer many intellectual benefits. One of the biggest challenges lacing students today is that few internships are paid, making participation in them financially impossible for many students; or, those internships do not always offer practical experiences that are conducive to later professional employment in criminal justice agencies. In light of these concerns, this article addresses the importance of internships, not only for students who hope to link their experiences to future employment, but also for criminal justice organizations that seek a mutually and fiscally responsible benefit from offering those internships. As a result of these concerns, a unique internship opportunity was recently developed and implemented in the form of the Student Summer Basic Jailor Academy, fostered by a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Henrico County Sheriffs Office in Henrico. Va.
Internship Benefits for Both Students and Faculty
Criminal justice internship programs give students an advantage, both while in school and when they enter the workforce. Internships provide an opportunity for students to add to their knowledge of how criminal justice, human services and legal systems operate, and help them relate the theories they have learned in their courses to practices in the field (Sgroi. 2002). Internships and experiential learning help students translate the theoretical into the practical. If theory is the "prerequisite for responsible practice." then internships become the ideal terrain in which to practice, bringing the two together (Kraska. 2004). Comparing the value of classroom and internship experiences, Ross (2002) states that, "the classroom provides an educational experience while the agency provides a training experience" and, when combined, the two experiences result in a holistic learning experience. As Ross (2002) notes, the internship thus holistically complements the classroom experience, and in an exit evaluation/survey, Ross found that 95 percent of student interns "either 'strongly agreed' or 'agreed' that the internship experience improved their understanding of the justice system." However, "The internship experience is similarly enhanced by the classroom experience, and many students fail to recognize that they would be unable to make sense of the agency and its functions within the system and society without the framework(s) provided by the classroom" (Ross, 2002). Students participating in internships also improved their writing and analytical skills--and developed valuable personal connections and contacts for future work (Ross, 2002).
While internships help students translate what they have learned in the classroom about criminal justice into practice, experiential learning has also been shown to help students grow on a personal level. In comparing students' reflections at the beginning and end of an internship, most researchers observed a maturing. For example, Hirshinger- Blank (2006) studied criminal justice interns who had worked closely with delinquent youths. She noted that the student interns' perceptions of both corrections and juveniles changed drastically from the beginning of their internships to the end. One student intern concluded, "I was more [interested in punishment coming into this [internship]. Rehabilitation and guidance [is] my way of thinking now" (Hirshinger-Blank, 2006). Internships not only benefit students academically and personally, but they also change students' critical thinking about crime and justice issues.
Internships also provide undergraduate students with unique, "hands-on" opportunities to acquire or improve job-readiness skills (Sgroi, 2002). Internships give students a chance to "try out" an occupation of interest, learn the day-to-day requirements of the occupation in question, meet professionals in the field and make contacts that may assist them in their subsequent job search (Sgroi. 2002). By taking on the role of participant-observer, students come to appreciate the workings and challenges of a particular job (Ross, 2002).
University faculty also benefit from placing students in internships. Criminal justice internships enable the faculty to engage students in an active learning capacity, while also keeping the university program...