School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers–Newark Announces Official Launch of Bachelor’s Degree in Justice Studies

The School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University–Newark announced it will offer a bachelor of arts degree in justice studies to all students in the fall of 2021. The new degree will prepare graduates for positions in government, nonprofit and community-based organizations, private-sector social responsibility initiatives, and research and policy-focused institutions that further justice reform.

While the current bachelor of science degree in criminal justice primarily prepares students for entry-level professional and pre-professional positions in criminal justice practice, the degree in justice studies will allow students to develop broader interests related to justice reform such as the social distribution of resources and opportunities, problems of human rights and human dignity, and international and comparative ideas of justice that extend beyond the criminal law. It will equip graduates for advanced study in various disciplines such as economics, political science, sociology, social policy, law, and public administration that address social and theoretical problems and solutions related to justice. Moreover, the new degree will introduce students to international and comparative ideas about theories of justice and how the criminal justice system in the United States measures up to others. The curriculum will prepare students for citizenship in a multicultural and global society where justice is the focus of discourse and engagement.

"The events of 2020 have underscored the need to provide students with opportunities to engage critically the wide array of justice issues that we face. These include the rights of indigenous peoples and racial minority populations, climate and environmental justice, alternatives to conventional criminal justice practices, and ways to address economic, health, and other social inequalities," said Bill McCarthy, dean of the School of Criminal Justice. "Our program provides students with courses, internships, and research opportunities that examine these and other issues at the local, national, and global levels," McCarthy noted. "Our new degree continues our deep connections to the Newark community and our central role in RU-N’s anchor initiatives. We are excited to introduce this new opportunity and we are looking forward to working with our 2021 inaugural cohort."

Courses unique to the justice studies degree include Pursuit of Justice as well as Inequality, which are three-credit courses that foster broad discussions of the meaning of justice and the ability of institutions and nations with expressed intentions of achieving freedom, justice, fairness, and democratic thriving to both exacerbate injustice and deepen inequality. Successful completion of the major also requires participation in a research and/or policy-based senior thesis course worth six credits. Through these courses, students will learn about theories and empirical evidence related to ideas of justice and gain knowledge about the agencies and organizations that deal with issues of crime and justice.  Particular attention will be paid to how the policies and practices of these institutions differentially impact individuals, families, and communities.

Initially offered to a select group of students in 2016, Ronald W. Pierce is the first person to earn the bachelor’s degree in justice studies at Rutgers-Newark in 2018, graduating summa cum laude. He currently serves as the inaugural Democracy and Justice Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, a nonprofit advocacy think tank based in Newark, where he works to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions and remove the many other barriers that prevent a seamless reentry upon their release.

Pierce credits his justice studies degree with his ability to fulfill his fellowship responsibilities successfully. “[M]y ability to understand the structural inequities and work within that frame to become an advocate for social change…if I had not learned that,…I couldn’t be in this position,” Pierce shared.

Sabir Bell, a current justice studies major in the School of Criminal Justice who will graduate in May 2021, concurred with Pierce. “[The year] 2020 has proven to be the epitome of everything we’ve studied – everything from medical inequality, services inequality, criminal justice inequality, dog-whistle politics. All the different things we see playing out, 2020 has brought all of it to bear. I think that this [major] is particularly relevant and important right now because without it, you really don’t understand what’s being said…It gives you a depth of understanding I don’t think you otherwise [would] have.”

“In the current climate of social and racial unrest, this new program will prepare a new group of leaders to examine and address the problems of our justice system,” commented the Honorable Victoria Pratt, a Rutgers Law School alumna who formerly served as chief judge of the Newark Municipal Court and presently is a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers-Newark.

To learn more about the bachelor of arts degree in justice studies, click here.

Click the hyperlink to learn more about the experience of Pierce as a justice studies major.