According to a recent ranking from Best Value Schools, York College is ranked #4 in the nation for its affordability and quality among small colleges for its criminal justice degree.
If you’ve read the headlines lately, you’ve seen the urgent need for Christian women and men in uniform, keeping the peace and serving communities in their hour of need. The criminal justice program at York College is producing just that—graduates with the heart and the skills to serve in the diverse needs of law related careers, from officers to lawyers to forensic scientists.
Dr. Billy Lones started the criminal justice program at York College in 2008. He still heads the program today, which is now the third largest major on campus behind education and psychology.
“The Christian element is embedded in everything that we do because that’s who I am,” said Lones. At its heart, the criminal justice program is about serving people, he says. “We are dealing with people not at their best. How we treat them is important.”
That was a key take-away for Randy Lewis ’12, one of the first graduates of the program. Lewis worked for several years in corrections in York and now works for the Department of Homeland Security. He recently graduated at the top of his class from a federal training program in border security and moved to Arizona to begin working as a border patrol officer. Lewis was one of 39 selected for this program. Only 34 completed the grueling training. Upon graduation, Lewis was recognized by his classmates with the Director’s Leadership Award, an award given to the trainee who best exemplifies the qualities of a leader.
“Dr. Lones always instilled in us that we should do our work with honesty and integrity,” said Lewis. “My whole experience in the criminal justice department and at YC, seeing my instructors working together and treating all human beings with respect—that’s huge. A badge sometimes gives people a false sense of superiority. I have to remember that even though I’ve been given authority by our country...all people are still children of God and deserve to be treated as such as I carry out my duty.”
Quin Johnson ’12, a police officer in Memphis, Tenn., agrees. “The biggest challenge is treating people like people, not problems, no matter what they might have done.” Johnson says one of the most valuable classes he took at York College was ethics. Dr. Lones led the class in discussions about real world legal scenarios and explored many sides of a situation.
“Policing has many gray areas,” said Johnson. “Learning about that in a Christian environment helps me think about the work differently as a Christian and an officer. Having these conversations ahead of time helps you handle the gray areas better in the moment.”
Lones says many of his students tell him, politely, that his ethics class ruins their lives. “They learn to think, not just to act,” said Lones. “They have to think through consequences and weigh all options.”
That was the experience of YC senior Courtney Lovelace ’17. She said she both loved and hated ethics because of how it challenged her thinking. “It was really interesting and difficult. I started to think about ethics in every situation, even small things. It really shifted my mindset,” she said.
Lovelace will graduate in May. She was recently accepted into law school at Faulkner University. Her legal passion is for punishment to be fair and free of discrimination. “I want to protect the rights of people in the justice system,” she said.
Lovelace recalled a classmate asking Lones a question that continues to resonate with her: “How can a Christian lawyer defend someone they know is guilty?”
“No matter what, they still have rights and deserve justice, not just punishment,” said Lovelace, echoing Lones’ response to the question. “They are still children of God. Their mistakes are different than mine, but they are still people, who need to be treated with dignity and humanity—even people that others may see as the worst of the worst. People deserve to be treated as people. Always.”
Lovelace has especially enjoyed studying criminology, the area of sociology that focuses on the study of crimes and their causes, effects, and social impact. A criminologist's job responsibilities involve analyzing data to determine why the crime was committed and to find ways to predict, deter, and prevent further criminal behavior. That study has fueled her passion for advocating for people in the legal system, from addressing underlying mental health issues, to substance use disorder treatment and recovery, to job preparedness and reentry services. “We have to be very intentional about how we handle people in the criminal justice system to make sure that they are getting more than punishment, but also getting what they need in order to not end up back in prison,” she said.
Graduates of the criminal justice program have a terrific placement rate, with nearly 100 percent working in the field or accepted to graduate programs. Lones hears often from former students that their degree from York College was great preparation for their next step—be it police academy or law school or anything in between. “Wherever they go, I hear over and over they were very well prepared for it,” he said.
That was certainly the case for both Lewis and Johnson. Lewis said that Lones readied him for his job with Homeland Security by forcing him to think critically and pay attention to details. On Lones’ tests, “there was usually more than one right answer—you had to pick the one that was most right,” Lewis said. He didn’t know it at the time, but that is the same format as all of the tests he had to pass to get to his current position. “That prepared me to get this job,” he said.
Johnson reported that the academic portion of police academy, a struggle for many, was pretty simple for him. “It was super easy because I’d had it all before,” he said. Of the hundreds that applied for positions with the Memphis police department, Johnson was one of 58 to enter the police academy; only 41 graduated and earned their badge.
On the topic of race and policing in America, Lones encourages lots of dialog in the classroom. They study historical context and seek to dispel myths and throw out easy answers, as he challenges students to dig deeper for explanations.
Policing in Memphis comes with a long history of racial tension. Johnson says he’s not afraid, despite the violence involving police that has been in the news in recent months. “You take it one day at a time and try not to think about it too much. You’ve got a job to do and you can’t do it well if you’re thinking about all the bad things that might happen,” he said. “I do get stopped by people who say ‘I support you guys’ or ‘I’m praying for you guys.’ That’s good to hear.”
For more information about the Criminal Justice program at York College, contact Dr. Lones at email@example.com or the Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or (402) 363-5627.
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