Justice For All

by Deshonna Collier-Goubil

Scrutiny of the U.S. criminal justice system has never been more intense. Every news outlet, television network, internet feed, and social media site reveals not only information and commentary, but also audio and visual accounts of traffic stops, arrests, and court proceedings. With cameras on every cell phone and millennials’ natural inclination to share their experiences publicly, we are now privy to more incidents of police contact with the community than ever before. This changes everything about criminal justice, professionals in the field, crime victims, and outcomes of the justice system.

While shedding light on inappropriate behavior benefits all fields, it carries the most weight in law enforcement, where it exposes abuse, excessive force, and criminal activity. The fact that sworn criminal justice professionals have the legal right to use deadly force if and when necessary raises the stakes considerably.

As citizens increasingly call for justice and accountability in the actions of criminal justice professionals, many positive steps can help raise the bar, such as additional training (cultural competency training), advanced technology (body cameras), higher education requirements (bachelor’s degree for line officers), external review boards to hear complaints (citizen review boards), and most important, strict accountability for wrongdoers (filing charges, changing laws to aid in convictions, termination). In addition, shared leadership, open communication, dialogue, and explanation of action serve to improve the system. Older policing tactics must give way to new approaches that transform the interaction during routine stops. Prosecutors and judges must be questioned about their actions as well, and their records examined to determine biases over the course of their careers. Further, as new DNA evidence exonerates formerly incarcerated individuals, many have questioned the overall effectiveness of the courts and are calling for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system.

This necessitates the preparation of professionals across the criminal justice spectrum committed to an honest, thoughtful, ethical approach to their work. Ahead of the curve, Azusa Pacific’s Department of Criminal Justice prepares students to use critical analysis and ethical reasoning in approaching the field of criminal justice. While many safe officer-citizen meetings occur and many instances of fair justice play out in the courtroom, there still exist many unethical encounters and instances of unethical sentencing (or lack of sentencing). In this program, faculty challenge students to think critically about real-life issues from multiple perspectives and learn to discuss them rationally and fairly. The diverse student makeup in this department adds to the rich classroom environment and promotes a climate in which peers challenge one another, engage in healthy debate, and work toward collaborative problem solving. This encourages students to seek creative, innovative solutions to issues requiring great leadership, ethical standards, and Christlike justice perspectives.

Uniquely prepared to address tough issues and evolving societal narratives, graduates of this program enter a multitude of professional outcomes. Some students aspire to law enforcement careers (local officer, state police, FBI, DEA, Border Patrol), while others seek involvement in the court system (prosecutor, defense attorney, etc.), engagement with juveniles as a probation officer or counselor, working alongside crime victims (human trafficking victims, domestic violence survivors), or effecting change within the criminal justice system through activism (scholar-activists). As a liberal arts degree program, we take a multidisciplinary approach to studying the justice system, combining the disciplines of criminology, sociology, psychology, political science, and law. Students gain invaluable critical thinking, written communication, oral communication, intercultural competence, and civic engagement skills that can be applied to any criminal justice profession. Students also study, listen to, and network with professionals in the field, activists, and exonerees, and they engage in service-learning, study-away opportunities, and active-learning strategies in their everyday classroom experiences.

The 21st-century criminal justice system needs informed, ethical leaders like APU graduates—those who view the world through a clear and unbiased lens, those who guide according to biblical principles, and those who consider service an inextricable component of leadership. Only this new brand of leadership and these structural changes will help bridge the gap between communities experiencing unrest and the criminal justice system.

View Deshonna Collier-Goubil's TEDx talk.

Deshonna Collier-Goubil, Ph.D., is associate professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice.

Originally published in the Spring '17 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.