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News | Arts and SciencesMay 23, 2022

Criminal Justice Students Tour Crawford County Jail

Written By: Judith Hansen

Even though they signed up for an online course, several students in two UAFS criminal justice courses were glad to turn themselves in to the Crawford County Justice Center last month as part of a class experience.

Some of Michael Jennings’ students in Corrections Systems and Practices and Courts and Criminal Procedures toured the law complex last month. It was the second year Jennings sponsored the tour for his students.

“The Crawford County Justice Center is a new, state-of-the-art facility by which future complexes will be fashioned,” said Jennings, adjunct professor in the Criminal Justice department. “The jail features an operating system that requires fewer staff members, and jailers can observe prisoners without physical contact, which is safer. The new complex integrates all sheriff’s office divisions and the coroner’s office on one campus.”

During their visit, students met with members of the Sheriff’s Office administration, including Sheriff Jim Damante. They toured the jail’s medical unit, kitchen, intake/booking area, and observation tower. They saw the search and rescue storage unit with its ATVs and boats. Coroner Pam Wells showed the students around her space, including intake, the forensics lab, and the examination area.

It wasn’t just seeing the facility that impressed students. They also had a chance to learn about criminal justice careers they might not have considered.

Jennifer Rodriguez, a Criminal Justice junior, said she was surprised by the number of cases the county had seen in just the first three months of this year. And she was glad to learn about different careers.

“I learned that many different tools are used to help solve a case, like a boat that can look deep into the water to find a person,” Rodriguez said. “The experience of touring the jail helped me see what other fields I might be interested in for a future job.”

Arleen Atanacio, another junior Criminal Justice student, also was grateful for the chance to see different jobs. She doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do in the near future but hopes to try several different functions as a law officer.

“I want to explore all my options,” she said. “Becoming a sheriff or going into forensics is what I am most interested in right now, although I hope that in the far future, I will become an FBI agent.”

Cecily Jackson, a second-year Criminal Justice major, has her eye on the far, far future, and seeing the Crawford County complex only whetted her appetite.

“The tour inspired me to work harder to achieve my goal of working in law enforcement,” Jackson said. “I am hoping one day I can retire and become a cold case detective to bring people closure.”

Michael Williams wasn’t surprised by anything he saw in the jail because he already works there. But he did learn about other offices in the complex like the morgue.

Jennings said his intention in sponsoring the tour is to give Criminal Justice students “practical, real-world experience that complements the theory and course work. Students can observe actual working departments and get excited about their careers as criminal justice professionals.”

The tour also reinforces the strong relationship between Crawford County law operation and the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith Criminal Justice program, and that’s good for everyone.

“Students interested in interning with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office also get a sneak peek at the operation,” Jennings said.