The Criminal Justice department at Keene State College has decided to disallow its students from interning through the school.

This decision went into effect last spring as a result of many risks that both faculty and student interns face. Service Learning and Internship Coordinator working out of  the Center for Engagement Learning and Teaching Karen Balnis said one of the concerns they have in Criminal Justice is looking at what the potential risks are for a student in any kind of internship, and that applies to some other departments as well.

Professor of Sociology and director of the Criminal Justice studies program Peter Stevenson led the effort to prohibit students among the criminal justice major from interning through the school. Stevenson said there is a large issue of liability involved with this decision.

When sending student interns into the field Stevenson said, “We’re also relying on the site and the site supervisor to exercise good judgement. I can’t go into a lot of details but we’ve had some sites that have not exercised good judgement. They put our students into risk allowing them to do things that typically a sworn officer would do, and interns’ don’t have the training or experience. The question then becomes what’s my liability and the college’s liability if a site exercises bad judgment and the student gets hurt or killed. That hasn’t been made clear yet.”

Looking out for the student’s well-being as well as the faculty’s are some main concerns. Stevenson said that currently the Board of Trustees decides whether or not a professor is found grossly negligent when they do a college related activity. Stevenson said, “We argue that a lot of the faculty as well as the professors union, that the Board of Trustees making the decision is not fair. A court of law should determine whether or not we’re negligent, not the Board of Trustees.” He went on to say how the department would like a neutral party like a court to decide that, “We’ve thought since the college is pushing internships I don’t understand why the trustees wouldn’t redo the policy to send a message that they do have our back on these things.”

Jess Mealy / Equinox Staff

Jess Mealy / Equinox Staff

Balnis said that faculty members are concerned about their liability when they’re approving an internship because they’re approving of the educational quality and academic expectations of the internship. Balnis continued, “There’s a concern about if there’s a liability that goes along with that for the actual sort of physical placement site”In the past students had interned at sites such as the local jail or police departments.

Stevenson said that all the rules and procedures that we do here also have to apply to the site. He stated, “I’m not sure sites would be willing to agree to comply with those mandates and I’m not sure if a prison or a police department could ever be a site that fits those criteria, not so much the people working there but their clientele.”

Stevenson continued, “The criminal justice faculty decided until these concerns are addressed in a way that makes us feel comfortable placing students, we can’t do it.” This means for the time being criminal justice majors will have to find volunteer positions or internships on their own.

KSC junior and criminal justice major Whitney Roberts said she is trying to incorporate her minor, substance abuse and addiction, to a probation internship outside of school this summer. She’s currently in the application process. Roberts explained, “Students are losing out on the opportunity to go and get experience in their field whereas most other majors get the opportunity to go out and have an internship.”

Balnis said that it’s part of our strategic plan related to our college-wide learning outcomes that we want more students to have the opportunities to do internships and other experiential learning. However, “to have that happen I think there needs to be more finances put toward the structure of internships. Whether that’s a new person in a different position than my own, or whether it’s adding onto an existing position there are some activities around organizing internships that needs more attention,” Balnis said.

Any Keene State College student looking for internships can look at jobwise (a resource through the academic and career advising). Balnis said, “Any student can use jobwise and sign on and put in some search terms and look for internships there. That’s basically just a referral service.” Criminal justice majors may not be able to find internships through the school that is credit bearing, but this tool helps students to find internships.

Balnis said, “The benefit of doing an internship goes far beyond what credit you get for it or not. The experience that students get with doing an internship, even if it’s not for credit, is really wonderful and can really help them.”

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