Looking at Criminal Justice with a Christian worldview

By Morgan Smith, Assistant Faith Editor  (Courtesy photo/OBU PR department)

Dr. Paul Donnelly spent three decades working in the criminal justice system before coming to OBU to help create a criminal justice major.

He’s been a chief probation officer, a director of state agencies and has worked for correctional institutions, both public and private.

“[I’ve] pretty much done it from bottom to top, in six different states,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly serves as the assistant professor of criminal justice at OBU.

“I think the administration recognized that prospective students were interested in a criminal justice degree,” Donnelly said. “So, they hired me and a couple years ago we put a program together and now we have a criminal justice major.”

One of the purposes of criminal justice education is to remind students, as Chris-tians, not to retreat from the world, but to engage in its issues.

“I think we try really hard to remind Christians that we have an important role to play in the public sphere, and because criminal justice is an important part of our society,” Donnelly said. “We as Christians need to be involved in not just working in the field but in leadership positions in the field.”

Part of working as leaders in the field of criminal justice, Donnelly said, is serving as examples of Christ’s grace, especially toward those who have broken the laws of the land.

“First of all, I think Christians recognize that there’s a spiritual dimension to this issue, that crime is a manifestation of our sinful nature, and that we need to keep that in mind when we’re working with offenders,” he said.

“There’s certainly psychological elements that we need to address, there are larger social structure issues that are important and need to be understood, but there’s also the understanding that this is an issue of disobedience not only against the country but, like all sin, is disobedience of how God created us to live in this world.”

Although the program is still in its infant stages, Donnelly said it’s already proven to be incredibly popular with OBU students. Currently, the program has 38 majors and minors, and he said he expects that number to average around 50 in the coming years.

“A degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree, can lead right to jobs in law enforcement, probation and parole, corrections, working in institutions and non-profits,” he said. “It’s a very marketable major.”

One of Donnelly’s students, senior Shimoya Currie, will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in May.

Originally, Currie said she wanted to be a nurse, but found it difficult to balance a nursing major with her track and field schedule.

“I really wanted to help people, and I thought nursing, at first, would be a great area to help people,” Currie said. “Initially I changed it to sociology, and then I saw that they were going to have a new criminal justice major, and I saw that a criminal justice major was also a way that I could help people.”

Currie said she’s already secured a job with the Pottawatomie County Jail after college.

“I’ll be doing booking,” she said. “Booking inmates as they come in and making sure we have proper documentation of all the inmates when they come in.”

Currie said she believes most of the issues in society stem from both the criminal justice system and a Christian worldview.

“For example, what’s our view on abortion, the death penalty, gun control? All of these come from a criminal justice point of view and they also stem from what you believe in as a Christian as well,” she said. “Before I came in, I didn’t think a lot about it, and I feel like criminal justice kind of molds you to form your own worldview based on the things that you learn, and I think that’s what happened with criminal justice for me.”

Currie said she believes all students should take a criminal justice class at some point, due to its focus on real-world issues.

“I feel like, sometimes as humans, we tend to be very calloused towards others and feel like people are deserving of certain treatment,” she said. “For example, one of the issues that I’m very passionate about is mass incarceration, where there’s a heavy influx of inmates in the prison system. As Christians, we’re called to be neighbors and I feel like, as Christians, we should take care of them, guide them down the path, provide jobs for them when they come out.”

Donnelly said he hopes to continue to see the program grow and attract more students in the future.

“The importance of not retreating from the world, not complaining about how bad things are, but being part of the solution,” he said. “We have the answer, we should be out there modeling what a Christian is.”

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