By John M. Paitakes, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, Rider University
In the past several months we have seen numerous protests by a significant number of citizens representing various groups and ages. Protesters have been demanding changes in social and criminal justice issues. The use of force by police and lack of social programs have been key issues. Unfortunately, a number of the protests have transpired from peaceful demonstrations to violence to include burning of retail stores, looting, assaults on police officers, and even several deaths. Many of the protesters have singled out what they feel were injustices and racism against African Americans and other minority groups and demanding immediate changes in the systems.
The following recommendations represent peaceful and meaningful ways protesters can perhaps influence changes in social and criminal justice service agencies.
- Volunteer to be a Big Brother or Big Sister to a disadvantaged youth who can benefit from a positive role model which may have been lacking in their family unit. Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America create and support one to one mentoring. This program can result in improving the knowledge and understanding of the volunteer in addition to assisting the youth. The experience may even provide a career opportunity for the volunteer.
- Court Administrators Office: The Court Administrators Office of a county or state normally is comprised of the following departments: Probation department; Prosecutors office; Child support division; Judiciary and court related administrative units. Volunteering as a student intern or perhaps as a volunteer, one will receive a comprehensive overview of the workings of the court and justice system functions. The intern and or volunteer would also be in a position to recommend changes or improvements in the system. This opportunity would also expose one to another possible career opportunity.
- Volunteers in Probation and Parole: A number of Probation and Parole agencies will accept student interns and volunteers to work in their system for a period of time. Probation officers supervise less serious offenders as a sentencing alternative while they reside in the community. Parole officers supervise more serious offenders as they are released from prison. However, in both of these positions the officers act as a counselor and social worker assisting their clients in securing work and housing so that they may be successful in the community. The intern and or volunteer would work with a client providing support in achieving a satisfactory adjustment in the community. It will be a meaningful learning experience for the volunteer and intern and also provide that individual with perhaps another career choice.
- Volunteer in a Police Department: A number of police departments may recruit interns and volunteers from the community to assist their departments. In addition, it is a great marketing tool to let them consider a career in law enforcement. The intern or volunteer will assist in administrative functions,, technology, record keeping and even ride along in the field. The individual will receive a comprehensive understanding of the daily activities of the operations of a police department.
- Volunteering in Corrections: A number of jails and prisons may accept volunteers and college interns to assist in the correctional system. One of the major tasks they may be assigned is tutoring inmates without a High School diploma to prepare for their G.E. D. (General Education Development) which equates to a High School diploma. They may also be assigned certain administrative and record keeping tasks and sit in on counseling sessions. This experience not only benefits the correctional system but provides the volunteer with a realistic view of the operations and functions of a correctional institution.
- Consider serving on a Board, Committee, Commission or running for office: There are a vast number of committees, commissions, offices, positions that can be influential in social and criminal justice practices. Many are non paid positions however, some are paid. By becoming involved in any of these, you may be a part of initiating change in an organization. Different jurisdictions may have a number of positions and opportunities for the interested. By becoming involved in any of these opportunities you can be a change agent and be better informed.
N.B.: Dr. Paitakes has worked in the probation system for over 25 years. In addition, he has worked on the New Jersey Parole Board for 10 years. He is a Professor Emeritus from Seton Hall University where he has taught criminal justice courses for 20 years. He is the author of “Working in Criminal Justice for 50 years”.