Aerial photograph of the Immaculate Conception Chapel

Why take an internship in criminal justice?

A recent study discovered that a quarter of the new hires by prestigious Fortune 500 companies had participated in an internship program while students. The number one criteria employers use in hiring is attitude and then experience. Internships allow you to apply what you are learning in the classroom to a work environment, build your career network, and show a potential employer your abilities and skills. In today’s job market, the experience an internship provides is essential for your career development.

The history of internship dates back to the Middle Ages when skills for most professions and trades were taught through apprenticeships. Criminal justice internship programs got a boost in 1968 from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration when weekly stipends were provided so that students could gain "hands on" experience working with criminal justice agencies. Whether they are called fieldwork, practicum, or internship, these programs contribute to educational goals in several important ways.

Knowledge acquired through an internship experience is firsthand. The student actually is a key player in the learning event. This is a very different approach to knowledge acquisition than the usual classroom experience where learning may be lecture, textbook, or teacher centered. Here, in the field, student becomes teacher and assumes full responsibility for learning.

The internship experience enables the student to compare knowledge learned in the classroom to what happens in the real world. Acquired knowledge becomes applied knowledge. Do the theories work? Can what is learned in the classroom be applied in the real world? What happens when things don’t go according to plan? Dealing with these questions takes on an importance and urgency not present in the classroom environment. Situations in the real world don’t end when the bell rings.

Internships promote skill development. Dealing with the public, clients, supervisors, and other professionals demands exemplary verbal communication skills. Writing skills also are an important component of almost every job description in criminal justice. As technology becomes a more integral part of criminal justice process, technical knowledge and skill make the criminal justice practitioner more effective and marketable. Interns have many opportunities to develop and practice these skills.

Opportunities for personal development are ever present during the internship experience. Self-confidence comes from handling new situations. Teamwork is learned when we work with others to accomplish goals unattainable by individual effort. Self-reliance is enhanced when we are forced to handle a situation without help from another. When another person’s idea works and ours does not, we learn that we are not always right and must compromise to get the job done.

Finally, internships present us with numerous opportunities for professional growth. We meet and work with individuals who can provide valuable information and experience, even after the internship experience has ended. Internships look great on a resume. Professionals with whom we have worked are often willing to be employment references. Sometimes internships result in part-time or full-time jobs. Internships are a win-win experience.