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Criminal justice professor publishes first-hand research on correctional officers

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Oct 13, 2021

Being a professor at a higher education institution like College of Lake County (CLC) is about more than just teaching students. The position also allows for the opportunity to help expand the knowledge in the individual’s given field. Criminal Justice department chair and professor Chris Utecht published his own research documenting the working lives of correctional officers to bring to light an underrepresented topic.

Photo of Chris Utecht

Correctional officers oversee those who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison. 

While the working lives of police officers is a well-documented and highly researched topic, Utecht said there isn’t much research published on correctional officers.

“The research brings an increased knowledge about a little-known topic,” Utecht said. “This is a group of professionals who, by design, labor out of public sight.”

Utecht teaches Intro to Policing at CLC, and every year he does an informal poll with his class to gauge what area they hope to pursue a career in. More and more students have been raising their hands for correctional officer.

“Our criminal justice program at CLC is a career program,” Utecht said. “We're oriented toward preparing our students for the criminal justice workplace. I had academic knowledge of the topic from my graduate work, but from a professional standpoint as a police officer, the only knowledge I had was dropping people off at the jail.”

Utecht brings his research expertise straight into his classroom.

“One of my favorite parts of this research is it’s not just information I'm hanging out there to be in some journal I'm never going to be able to use. This is research I'm able to use right away in my class,” Utecht said. “It also inspires students who think it's pretty interesting that the research they're reading in the classroom was done by one of the instructors.”

In fall 2017, Utecht was awarded a sabbatical in order to do his own research on correctional officers so he could bring it back and teach in his own class. For his research, he interned as a correctional officer with the Midwestern Jail Facility where he observed the operations in all different parts of the institution.

One of the biggest takeaways from his research was how different the life of a correctional officer is compared to how they’re viewed by the public and in popular media.

“I think people would say the job of a correctional officer is either very violent and dangerous, or they might say it’s boring,” Utecht said. “While it can be both from time-to-time, more than anything it’s exhausting. It’s a mentally challenging job.”

Having CLC faculty publish their research, according to Utecht, helps to show that community college professors are at the same level as other institutions.

“I think it shows we're true academics here, involved in the field,” he said. “It shows we have the chops to do what it is people think professors are supposed to do. And that is not only teach, but also increase the knowledge base around your subject.”

Utecht’s research can be found at

About College of Lake County

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.