by Marie Owens
A criminal justice and law curriculum for high school students may sound like an overly specialized course of study for young people who may not have had a chance to consider all of their career options before they even start college, but such a curriculum can actually introduce teenagers to a liberal arts education. The Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice in Brooklyn, New York operates on this premise. The summary on the school's web site states that students learn that evidence-based thinking found from a criminal justice degree is necessary in all fields: whether writing a persuasive essay, proving a scientific hypothesis or understanding historical events.
Several school districts throughout the United States now have high schools in which the major focus of the curriculum is on criminal justice and law. There are also several such charter schools. These schools can be found in Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Virginia. Students at these schools are introduced to many fields of study, including forensic science, statistics, psychology, sociology, public administration and law. Students at high schools devoted to criminal justice and law studies are also encouraged to develop critical thinking skills. These skills can help a young person in any career, even if he or she later decides not to pursue a career in law or criminal justice. Some of the schools also have a prominent character education component.
High schools that have a criminal justice and law curriculum often place an emphasis on exposing the students to hands-on or real world applications of the coursework. Field trips are organized so that the students can have conversations with medical examiners, judges and police officers. They also visit correctional institutions to help make some of the concepts they learn less abstract.
Some colleges and universities offer summer programs or seminars for high school students in criminal justice and law. They often focus on real world applications of the topics that they cover. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice provides a program in forensic science that demonstrates how biology and chemistry are used outside of academic settings. Seton Hall University offers a one-week summer program that introduces high school students to criminal justice. High schools are also affiliated with colleges through advanced placement courses in fields related to criminal justice and law.
Some of the schools that offer criminal justice programs are more vocational in nature than collegiate. They help students prepare for careers in such fields as security or the informational technology associated with crime and security. These programs may offer industry certification upon completion. Many programs are run in conjunction with nearby technical or vocational colleges.
Allowing students to study within a specific field of criminology while they are still in high school gives educational institutions an opportunity to provide a well-rounded education to students by allowing them to pursue their interests while they are still interested. Many charter schools and magnet schools across the country are founded on this principle. Programs are available for students to study the arts, media, technology and ecology.
If students who attend high schools devoted to the study of criminal justice and law do not go on to a career in these fields, society benefits because these students will be less likely to be criminal offenders. In their report to the United States Congress, prepared for the National Institute of Justice, Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn't, What's Promising, Lawrence W. Sherman and various other authors stated that law teachings in schools is one of the things that work, along with peer-group counseling, gang resistance education, and anti-bullying campaigns.
High school programs associated in the field of law equips young people with knowledge and skills that they can use in many fields. As The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice in Brooklyn, New York, puts it, "law is a captivating lens for learning, and that the skills necessary for the legal profession are universal." Students who enroll in a high school devoted to criminal justice or law may think that they are embarking on a specialized field of study, but will most likely gain a holistic education along the way.