The University of Central Florida will establish the state’s first doctoral program focused exclusively on criminal justice following approval of the program by the Florida Board of Governors in November.

UCF’s Department of Criminal Justice will launch the program in the fall of 2015.

The program will prepare students for faculty and analyst positions in criminal justice, a discipline that focuses on law enforcement, courts, corrections and juvenile justice.

“We spend literally billions of dollars on criminal justice systems in Florida,” said Professor Robert Langworthy, who co-wrote the program proposal with Assistant Professor Jacinta Gau. “We need highly trained scholars and analysts in criminal justice to help us determine what is and isn’t effective.”

Criminal justice is distinct from the study of criminology, which focuses on the cause of crime and criminal behavior. About 40 academic institutions nationwide offer doctoral education in one or both disciplines, according to Langworthy and Gau.

“Fewer than half a dozen of these programs focus purely on criminal justice, Langworthy said. “The academic enterprise is way under producing social scientists in the discipline to meet the demands.”

Colleges and universities need faculty members to teach and contribute to the discipline’s body of research, and think-tanks and intelligence-led organizations, such as law enforcement and federal agencies, need analysts, he explained.

To be considered for UCF’s program, applicants must have a master’s degree in criminal justice or closely related discipline. Those who enroll in the full-time, 57-credit-hour program will take courses and conduct research and write a dissertation under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Students should complete the program in about three years.

The program will offer three areas of specialization that reflect the strengths of the department’s faculty researchers: policing, corrections and juvenile justice.  

“These are areas of importance to our regional partners and statewide agencies as well,” said Professor Roberto Hugh Potter, interim chair and research director for the department.

Potter has spent the past five years overseeing research at local agencies conducted by master’s degree students in criminal justice. He said many agencies are eager to participate in research and implement practices shown to be effective through rigorous scientific study.

“I can attest to the need for high-level understanding and research about the system,” wrote Volusia County Division of Corrections Director Marilyn Chandler Ford. “Indeed, my own organization has a critical need for this type of research; I know neighboring correctional agencies have this same need.”

Community-based research will be a hallmark of the doctoral program, Potter said.

Collaboration with related doctoral programs at UCF will be another. The criminal justice doctoral program will be complementary with doctoral programs in public affairs, sociology, and security studies, Langworthy noted. “We hope to share expertise and experiences with these programs,” he said.

UCF will begin accepting applications for the criminal justice doctoral program in the fall of 2014 for admission in the fall of 2015. Five new students will be admitted each fall to reach and then maintain a total enrollment of about 15 students a year.

“We’ll be looking for technically and theoretically sophisticated individuals,” Potter said. “Students who really want to apply the best science and technology available to examine practices in criminal justice.”

Thanks to support from College of Health and Public Affairs Dean Michael Frumkin, the department will be able to award graduate assistantships to students in the program. Each assistantship will cover tuition and provide a stipend. 

Frumkin said he was extremely pleased to learn of the Board of Governor’s approval of the program.

“The reviewers recognized the proposal as truly exceptional,” Frumkin remarked. “And while many faculty participated its development, special recognition goes to Bob Langworthy and Jacinta Gau for their amazing contributions to this effort. We eagerly look forward to greeting our first group of Ph.D. students in the fall of 2015.”