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Governors State University has created an advisory board for its master’s degree program in criminal justice with the hope this six-member team will help the school better navigate a rapidly changing concentration.

In Illinois and nationally, criminal justice reform is constantly being discussed with politicians from every side debating topics such as cash bail, handling of minor drug offenses, capital punishment and police accountability. This led two Governors State professors to suggest a panel that informs educators and students in an up-to-date and thoughtful way.

“Criminal justice is a rapidly evolving, crosscutting field that spans a wide range of societal interests,” the university stated in a news release earlier this month.

The plan is for the board to advise faculty and administration on issues related to graduate-level criminal justice education to be sure courses are providing relevant skill sets, curriculum content and practical education.

Another mission is to ensure multiple perspectives are given input into the program.

The board is made up of two 21st Judicial Circuit Specialty Court judges, a mental health counselor, police chiefs from Matteson and University Park, and an graduate of the program who has dedicated years to understanding criminal justice internationally.

“I believe that the advisory board will eventually advise us on courses that we should offer to help prepare our students for this changing world,” said Vincent R. Jones, the associate professor of criminal justice who developed the program with Janet Brewer, an assistant professor of criminal justice and sociology.

Neither educator serves on the board but will be the liaison between the board and the school’s leadership.

Jones said during the first meeting, Matteson police Chief Michael Jones described how his law enforcement officers spend only 20% of their time enforcing the law and the other 80% engaging with a variety of community support activities.

“He would like for his officers to not be called law enforcement officers but to be called peace officers,” Van Jones said.

Board members will also be mentors to students in the master’s program who are looking to make a career out of their studies in criminal justice reform, Jones said.

Part of the impetus for the program is changes in Illinois law regarding criminal justice. In September, cash bail was eliminated, concluding a monthslong battle over its constitutionality and ushering in a variety of other criminal justice reforms. The state legalized marijuana in January 2020 and, following a 2022 mass shooting in Highland Park, approved a law banning high-powered guns, which continues to be challenged in court.

“The landscape of criminal justice is changing and we have an opportunity to interface with the community that we serve,” Brewer said. “The role that this board will have is to guide us in creating a new mission statement and in the curriculum revisions that we’re currently undergoing.”

hsanders@chicagotribune.com



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