MCC’s criminal justice program prepares students for careers in corrections, law enforcement and more.
Criminal justice encompasses prison and police work, community and police relations, criminal law, probation and parole. The skills required are just as varied.
“There are a lot of job opportunities, but they are competitive,” says Montcalm Community College Vice President for Student & Academic Affairs Rob Spohr. “Organizations are selective about hiring individuals with the right training and personality for the job.”
Training for a variety of opportunities
MCC offers an Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice, a Criminal Justice certificate and two job training programs.
In addition, agreements with Ferris State University (FSU) and Kaplan University allow students a seamless transfer to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the field, while students interested in pursuing a business-related career in criminal justice enjoy the same opportunity with Davenport University and FSU.
With as many as 10,000 employees eligible to retire in 2016, the Michigan Department of Corrections earlier this year announced plans to hire about 1,000 corrections officers and that many in subsequent years, as needs arise.
Kendra Backing, MCC alumna and Evart Chief of Police
To prepare students for these jobs, MCC and Central Area Michigan Works! partnered to offer a criminal justice fast track. The 15-credit program prepares students who are interested in careers as corrections officers with the basic coursework required to be eligible to enter the Michigan Department of Corrections training academy. Each MCC class is three weeks in length, so students can complete all of their requirements in just one semester.
“This is exactly what makes community colleges unique,” Spohr says. “The Department of Corrections identified an immediate need for thousands of corrections officers, and we were able to create the fast track program and have qualified graduates within just a few months.”
MCC’s criminal justice programs combine traditional lecture-style classes with hands-on learning experiences. Every year, students take multiple field trips to tour prisons and courts, and to ride along with law enforcement on patrols.
Glennes Page, a part-time criminal justice instructor at MCC, says it’s important for students to get personal experience so they gain a better understanding of the requirements of various careers in the field. Students are required to tour the Michigan Reformatory Correctional Facility in Ionia, as well as Ionia Correctional Facility, or I-MAX.
“They need to get a look at what they will be doing,” Page says, “to have a better understanding of whether it’s the right career choice for them.”
In addition, students teach life skills classes inside the prison during which they learn about client relations.
“It tests the students’ boundaries and whether they can put concepts into practice,” Page says. “It also gives them insight as to how prisoners interact with them. If they’re going to work in a prison, they have to have good boundaries.”
Activities outside of the classroom
MCC’s Justice Studies Club is for students who are interested in the legal, criminal justice or corrections fields.
The club will host a Corrections Career Forum this winter to connect students with professionals in corrections as well as other criminal justice areas.
Last year, the club raised money to help fund the purchase of a new police dog for the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Office. Club members also raise money to underwrite the cost of taking field trips to learn more about career options in criminal justice.
Criminal Justice careers
The criminal justice field needs disciplined individuals to work as corrections professionals, police officers, parole officers, legal experts and more.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for police officers, detectives and corrections officers is expected to grow by five percent nationwide by 2022.
Recent MCC graduates with associate degrees in criminal justice are working in the following areas:
- Foster care/support
- Law enforcement
- Retail fraud management
- Transportation security
- Administration (TSA)
- Victim advocacy
Some of the organizations they are working for include:
- Government agencies
- Security firms
- Private corporations
- Shelly Strautz-Springborn
Learn more about Montcalm Community College’s criminal justice programs at www.montcalm.edu/academics or call 989-328-1277.
MEDIAN WAGES (2014) $38.40 hourly $79,870 annually
Police and sheriff’s patrol officers
MEDIAN WAGES (2014) $27.31 hourly $56,810 annually
Probation and parole officers
MEDIAN WAGES (2014) $23.59 hourly $49,060 annually
BEHIND THE BADGE
MCC alumna finds her passion in law enforcement
Kendra Backing has been intrigued by whodunit mysteries since she was a girl.
While attending Belding High School, Backing dual enrolled in a criminal justice class, and that experience combined with her love of solving mysteries fueled her interest to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I was always a problem solver,” Backing says. “I wanted to understand why people did the things they did.
“Through the classes I took as a high school student, I found my passion,” she says, and she soon enrolled in classes at Montcalm Community College.
Backing earned an associate degree in criminal justice from MCC in 2002 and transferred to Ferris State University where she completed a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in public administration.
Today, the 35-year-old is the chief of police with the Evart Police Department. She is the first woman ever to hold this position. She also was the first full-time female officer and the first female sergeant to serve the department, where she has been employed for 10 years.
She says while the job “is sometimes very absorbing, I have moments that remind me why I do this. I want to help people. I feel like I’ve always had some sort of calling in a service field.”
While attending MCC, Backing says, “I had a great experience. Looking back, I wonder how I got through it. I had a young son, worked during the day and attended night classes.
“The class schedule was very convenient. I found relationships in other students who were doing the very same thing,” she adds.
Jim Peacock, a now-retired criminal justice instructor, made a lasting impression on her.
“He challenged me. When I needed help, he helped me,” Backing says. “All of my instructors were approachable and available. They wanted to see me and everybody else succeed. You never forget about the people who help you along the way.”
- Shelly Strautz-Springborn