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Jail 101
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 06/23/2008

Jailbook Flip through a criminal justice degree catalog and you’ll find a course list that reads like a Law and Order or CSI junkie’s dream. “Crime Theory,” “Drug Use and Abuse,” “Social Deviance,” even “Terrorism and Film” are just some of the topics a budding criminal justice professional can choose from. Get to the bottom of the list, though, and it’s highly likely you’ll find zero courses dedicated entirely to jails.

Filling this hole in the general criminal justice curricula is Gary Cornelius, an adjunct professor of criminal justice at George Mason University. He has written a textbook solely devoted to jails, and is using his 27 years of experience with the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Department in Fairfax, Virginia to improve classroom instruction and explain to those outside of corrections what jails are really all about.

“In many of the criminal justice texts available, jails are just a small part of them,” Cornelius says. “Maybe there’s one chapter on jails, but that’s usually it. We are really overdue and in need for courses on jails at the college level.”

The American Jail: Cornerstone of Modern Corrections is the culmination of four years of research and writing for Cornelius. The text covers topics ranging from the history of the American jail to today’s inmates and staffs to the jail climate. Even though most criminal justice degree programs don’t reflect it, Cornelius believes the jail is the most fundamental and important arm of the criminal justice system.

“There are more than 3,000 jails in the United States,” he explains. “Every jurisdiction in this country has a jail. Cities, town, counties, or maybe it’s counties pooled together regionally – one of these will have a jail.”

Cornelius says the book will be invaluable for student research papers and instructors’ lesson plans. But the author also wants his book to show the “human” side of jails.

“I have a feature throughout the book called ‘Point of View,’” he explains. “It has different people, civilians, high level supervisors, even an ex-inmate, writing segments about their perspective on jails. Their stories need to be told. I could have been very technical in this book, but I wanted it to have a human side.”

Cornelius, who has always been fascinated by corrections, says that for him the people are the most compelling part of jails.

“After 27 years in a jail you see a lot of things, things you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” he says. “In my career I dealt with the mentally ill, inmates who were suicidal, violent, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, inmates who committed overt acts to kill or are despondent about life, and gang members. The men and women who staff jails have to deal with all of these types of offenders, offenders who are coming right out of the criminal environment into their facility.”

“Even some of most crowded jails, staff treat inmates with basic human respect and they have good rapport with inmates,” he adds.

Despite his many years of experience, Cornelius was surprised to find during his book research the advancements made in programming. While a lot of media attention is paid to rehabilitative and vocational programming for prison inmates, Cornelius says jails are making large programming strides.

“I really enjoyed putting together the chapter on jail programs and services,” he says. “I couldn’t believe how much I was finding. There are programs in Nevada where they have mental health training for jail officers dealing with the mentally ill. Then I found Prince Georges County in Maryland has a program on teaching inmates to be barbers. I thought it was just fascinating.”

“Even in the smaller jails there’s a lot of good being done,” he continues. “I tried to bring smaller jails more into the spotlight with the book too. Everyone thinks of Riker’s Island or Miami-Dade when they think of jails, but there are a lot of little jails out there doing a lot of good things.”

Even so, he hopes his book will offer readers a better view of what jails do, who’s in them and who runs them. The American Jail: Cornerstone of Modern Corrections is currently available at Amazon.com, Booksamillion.com, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

Related Resources:

Check out the textbook on Amazon.com

More book details


  1. schooler on 07/04/2008:

    I read the article about the the bool American Jail; Cornerstone of Modern Corrections. It seems that this would be a reliable resource for students in the Criminal Justice field. As stated, the jail is the center hub of criminaljustice.

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