Continuing Education for Criminal Justice Professionals

by Thomas Dworak, Sgt. (Ret.), Virtus Group

There are two things that criminal justice professionals do not like.  The first is change. The second is the way things are. The way to alter the culture of the criminal justice profession is through continued growth.

One of my favorite books is The Fifth Discipline by Peter M. Senge. In it, Senge writes about creating learning organizations and being a lifelong learner.  The two are joined together.  Learning organizations evolve and grow over time. Organizations need lifelong learners who continually push the evolution of their group.

Learn More About CJ DegreesWhether you are in law enforcement, corrections or work in a support function within the criminal justice arena, you have obtained some basic certification to perform your duties.  Some may have advance certifications and others may possess some college credit or a criminal justice degree.

Corrections and law enforcement agencies assign their officers to various training classes for the purpose of assisting in their personal and professional development. Many of these training classes teach linear processes, best practices, law or policy updates.

What is missing from these training classes is education. Education provides the criminal justice professional with critical thinking and decision-making skills. We learn how to process information within the non-linear, open loop environment that law enforcement and corrections deal with on a daily basis. Education helps to develop creative solutions within the parameters of policy and general orders.

Returning to college may be a challenge. Obtaining an online criminal justice degree allows busy law enforcement and corrections officers to work within a schedule that will not interfere with work or family. Think of it as a way to exercise your brain.

Obtaining an online criminal justice degree allows busy law enforcement and corrections officers to work within a schedule that will not interfere with work or family.

Recent developments in neuroscience show that the brain is like a muscle, capable of growth throughout life.  Like a muscle, it needs to be exercised regularly or it begins to atrophy. Becoming a lifelong learner is not difficult, though it does take practice.  Learn one new thing everyday and challenge yourself to be better tomorrow than you are today.

I returned to college to complete my bachelor’s degree when I was 31-years old. Completing the final two years of study put me at the age of 33.   I continued on and enrolled in a master’s program and was just a couple of months shy of 35 when I graduated. There were no online graduate or undergraduate degree programs when I attended college. My family made a great sacrifice to allow me to obtain my degrees. The sense of pride in achieving a goal and becoming the first in my family to not only obtain a college degree but a Master of Science degree was the cherry on top of the sundae.

Criminal justice training and education can open the doors of creativity for many student. In a law enforcement or corrections career, the way things are can no longer be.  As much as law enforcement and corrections dislike change, change is how criminal justice professionals continue to grow.  It is said, “All children are artists. The problem is remaining artists when we become adults." One needs creativity to be an artist and by the time we become adults, creativity has been driven out in favor of compliance.

Creative thinking is supported and encouraged through higher education.  During the course of study, the student is encouraged to test new ideas and question processes.  It helps the student to answer the question, “Why?” What better environment is there than returning to college and continuing your development as a lifelong learner. Be part of the evolution. Begin or complete your criminal justice degree toexercise your mind and find the answer to the why.
Sgt. Thomas Dworak served the Wilmette, Il. Police Department for 31 years in a wide variety of assignments. Now retired, Sgt. Dworak is a consultant for The Virtus Group ( providing adaptive leadership training to law enforcement and corrections officers through the Growing Courage leadership program.