1-on-1 With Criminal Justice Expert, Dr. Sheryl Van Horne

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Take one glance at the list of America’s most-watched television shows, and there’s no denying that our country is intensely fascinated by crime and punishment.  In an era when shows like NCIS and Law & Order: SVU dominate television screens across the nation, Hollywood has catalyzed a growing interest in criminal justice degrees – but it has also produced several myths about how the criminal justice system works in real life.  

Sheryl Van Horne, a criminal justice professor, is here to dispel some of those myths and provide her expert insight on degrees and careers in criminal justice.  Currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Criminal Justice at Arcadia University, Sheryl is a former employee of the Jersey City, New Jersey Police Department, where she worked in their Planning and Family Drug Court departments.  Sheryl earned her extensive credentials from Rutgers University, including a PhD and MA in Criminal Justice from their School of Criminal Justice, as well as bachelors degrees in Psychology, Sociology, and German from Rutgers College. 

An expert in both the teaching and practice of criminal justice, Sheryl presents up to six papers each year at national and international conferences, where she focuses on homicide research, empathy in students, pedagogical technique, and other criminal justice skills required in the field.  As an online educator, she is also certified as an Online Facilitator through Socrates Distance Learning. 

Read on to learn more about Sheryl’s education and career in criminal justice below. 

About Criminal Justice Degree Programs

eL: Criminal justice as an academic discipline examines socioeconomic factors as root causes to crime. How have you focused your career and research within this broad spectrum?

SVH: Much of my current research employs social disorganization theory. One of the key components of that theory is poverty. Socioeconomic factors are significantly relevant in many crimes.

eL: Thanks to the media and the prevalence of television crime dramas, the public likely has a skewed understanding of the criminal justice system. In your view, what are some common misconceptions of this subject?

SVH: There are many. Students come in believing that crime rates are skyrocketing, that CSI techniques are all real, that one can become an FBI agent only after years of relevant work experience. There is a great media emphasis on criminals as the “other” which leads to a more punitive focus and a crime control orientation. The media also presents the system as trustworthy and near perfect, which it clearly is not.

eL: What makes the criminal justice program at Arcadia University different than other programs?

SVH: I think what makes it most unique is how I teach the introduction course, Crime and Punishment.  By focusing on morality and a critical examination of the “system” and system processing, it sets the tone for other courses.

eL: In addition to your role as director of criminal justice, you are also director of global security and emergency management. Are these roles mutually exclusive, or do they overlap, and how?

SVH: There are two programs that exist at Arcadia. There is some overlap in terms of two things: some of the criminal justice courses are required for the GSEM (General Studies: Elementary Education) major, and many students will major in one and minor in the other. Otherwise, there is not a great deal of overlap in terms of workload. The GSEM major is highly interdisciplinary, requiring courses in international studies and political science.

eL: What is one of the more promising technological innovations in higher education and why is it so groundbreaking?  What, if anything, have you done to adopt it in your teaching and research?

SVH: I think the apps on the iPad and other tablets have a great deal of potential for introducing more creative methods of learning. I do not incorporate that into my classes yet but hope to one day.

eL: Tell us about your vision for the criminal justice field. Where do you think it is headed in the next five years (or beyond)? How does that relate to bachelor’s degree candidates in Arcadia’s program?

SVH: I think rehabilitation and restorative justice will come to the fore. I have been reworking the criminal justice major at Arcadia to be more restorative in its orientation. Plans are in the works for the requirement of a restorative justice course, for example.

eL: Are there any exciting tracks or sub-fields within criminal justice studies that students should consider?

SVH: Terrorism is one that is popular at many places, since 9/11. Restorative justice is as well.

About Criminal Justice Careers

eL: Your career has included practical experience working with the Jersey City, New Jersey Police Department. Can you describe some of that experience as it relates to your field?

SVH: I worked in the Planning department and learned a great deal from behind the scenes, entering data, aiding in applying for research grants for the city, and working on reports and data analysis for Compstat [comparative statistics] meetings and for senior law enforcement officers.  Particularly interesting was one address that had on average one call for service each day of the previous year. While it would seem that that address had very high rates of crime, it turns out that one older woman made numerous noise and nuisance complaints against her neighbors. It’s important to look at the qualitative aspects of the data and not just the numbers.

eL: What do you see as being some of the biggest challenges and/or rewards facing graduates of a criminal justice studies program? Do you have any suggestions for students who are considering this field of study?

SVH: I think doing good for a vulnerable population is a very real potential reward forCJ [criminal justice] majors. I think one of the biggest challenges is overcoming the idea that law and law enforcement are the only potential options post-graduation. There are so many other relevant fields, including victim advocacy, youth counseling, and more.

eL: What are the most important skills and abilities criminal justice candidates must take into their workforce? Any other advice?

SVH: Students in any field need to focus on effective communication. Writing and effective speaking are so important in so many CJ-related careers. For law enforcement, knowing how to communicate effectively during potentially violent situations without escalating them further is particularly important.


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