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Internships in corrections: Why you need a summer intern

Formerly a closed career path, student internships are a way for the field of corrections to expand

We all know that internships are an important part of a college education. Some fields like nursing and education require internships in order to complete a degree. I have been involved with student interns for most of my professional career. Heck, I was an intern way back when.

The field of corrections however has been slow to come around. Traditionally, corrections has been a closed career field. You got into the business because it was a family tradition or you knew someone in the field. Student internships are a way for the field of corrections to expand.

One common misconception is that interns are just volunteers who happen to be in college. This is far from the truth. The difference between student interns and civilian volunteers is well defined.
Student interns are sponsored by a college or university, earn college credit for their experiences, are time limited (generally a semester in length) and have a faculty sponsor to help guide them through the process. Volunteers are just that — volunteers.

Internships are important for a number of reasons. First, they provide learning opportunities for the student. But, they also provide opportunities for us in the field. Interns bring the newest, most innovative information to the field placement. Since they are active in their studies, the students are exposed to information that we as professionals might not have readily available. At the Department, we established a “think tank” of the brightest graduate students. Their job was to think of ideas to implement and to review and develop different methods to utilize.

Internships allow us to pre-screen potential employees. Generally, an intern works full time for 12 to 15 weeks. This gives us in the field the opportunity to observe their work ethic and get to know them prior to hiring.

Internships also allow us to get certain jobs or projects done that we might not otherwise be able to do. I know it sounds ironic but when I was with the Department of Corrections, we had interns design and develop the professional internship program for the agency. I have used interns to work with inmates on mural projects, develop and implement family reading programs, and provide supervised mental health groups for inmates. If you think about the operation of a prison, interns can be used in a variety of settings.

Interns from the business field could assist in our business office; nursing interns could be utilized in the medical department, hospitality interns could be used in food service, and social work interns can be utilized to assist with re-entry initiatives. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination!

Open your minds and open your facilities to allow interns into our field. I know we’ll be better for it.

Laura E. Bedard began her work in corrections as a jail administrator in 1984. During her tenure as administrative faculty for the College of Criminology at Florida State University, she ran a study-abroad program in the Czech Republic lecturing on crime topics in an emerging democracy. In 2005, she became the first female Deputy Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. There she was responsible for 27,000 state employees and over 200,000 offenders in the third largest correctional system in the country. Dr. Bedard has published and lectured on a number of corrections-related topics including women in prison, mental health issues and correctional leadership. Dr. Bedard is currently serving as the Chief of Corrections for the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Sanford, Florida.

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