Building Your Syllabus

Building Your Syllabus web_admin Thu, 12/16/2021 - 11:23

The syllabus is the cornerstone of any college course and the first step toward class preparation. While Nilson (2010) identifies 23 recommended components of a syllabus, this guide will briefly focus on eight core areas:

  1. Course title
  2. Prerequisites
  3. Course description
  4. Learning objectives
  5. Textbooks and other reading materials
  6. Grading scale and rubrics
  7. University and class policies
  8. Course outline

Course Title

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) defines community corrections as the supervision of criminal offenders in the resident population, as opposed to confining offenders in secure correctional facilities. Likewise, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) defines community corrections as programs that oversee the supervision of offenders outside of jail or prison. Community corrections encompasses probation and parole but can also be broadened to include pretrial supervision. Probation is typically regarded as correctional supervision conducted in the community in lieu of incarceration, whereas parole represents supervised release in the community from a prison. The term community corrections may also be used in reference to halfway houses, day reporting centers, and work release programs.

Various course titles have been used across universities including Introduction to Community-Based CorrectionsAlternative to CorrectionsProbation and ParoleCommunity Corrections, or some variation thereof. Simply Introduction to Community Corrections would be sufficient.


Given the focus on introducing community corrections to undergraduate students, it is recommended that such a course is permitted to proceed immediately after completion of an Introduction to Criminal Justice class.

Course Description

Course Description web_admin Thu, 12/16/2021 - 11:23

The following call-out boxes contain examples of course descriptions for community corrections classes. Many more can be located online with any available search engine. For universities in which an equivalent course is already present a description has likely already been created and established, potentially as a component of what is referred to as a “syllabus of record.” In such cases it may be necessary to get approval from the department chair or university administration to make changes.

The course description should include the rationale or justification for the course and major topic areas to be covered (Nilson, 2010). If using the term “community corrections,” it is important that it be well defined in the course description. As mentioned previously the term can be used in reference to probation, parole, halfway houses, work release programs, and even pretrial supervision (Hanser, 2014; Lutze, 2014). If the focus will be primarily on probation and parole supervision, it would be helpful to indicate that in the description. It is also beneficial to indicate the orientation of the class in terms of examining the correctional system (e.g., history, philosophy), the work of those with jobs in the system, and the lives of the individuals involved in that system (i.e., victims, defendants, probationers, inmates, parolees). Finally, if there is a focus on any specialized populations such as sex offenders, gang members, domestic violence perpetrators, it would be useful to indicate that as well.

The following are samples of course descriptions from community corrections courses from several colleges and universities.

American Public University’s Probation and Parole Course Description

Probation and Parole will guide students through comprehensive, up-to-date, evidence-based practices and research for probation, release from prison, and other community-based alternatives. Students will explore community-based correctional programs in their historical, philosophical, social, and legal context and integrate real-life practice to the greatest extent possible.

Mr. Donald Rallyson’s Spring 2015 Introduction to Community Based Corrections Course Description at WOR-WIC Community College

This course will focus on all forms of community-based corrections. The student will examine origins, organization and trends in current traditional corrections as well as focusing on non-traditional community corrections: electronic monitoring, house arrest, day-treatment, boot-camp and fines.

Dr. Faith Lutze’s Spring 2014 Community Corrections Course Description at Washington State University

U.S. policymakers have become increasingly punitive in the last 40 years resulting in the war on drugs, mandatory sentencing, and longer sentences resulting in extreme increases in our prison population. While attention is often focused on the record setting 2.5 million Americans incarcerated in our nation’s prisons and jails, the overwhelming number of offenders under state control is supervised in the community. There are approximately 740,000 offenders released from prison each year with approximately 5 million Americans serving time on probation or parole. This course will provide a review of the complex issues confronting the criminal justice system, corrections agencies, community corrections officers, offenders, and the communities in which we all live—both offenders and law abiding citizens. Be prepared to stop thinking about offenders as “those people” and begin thinking about them as “our people,” being released from “our prisons” into “our communities” where “we live, work, and play.”

Mr. Edward Mosley’s Fall/Spring 2013-2014 Community Corrections: Probation and Parole Course Description at Passaic County Community College

This course examines the relationship between institutional confinement and community-based supervision. Emphasis is placed upon probation, parole, pretrial release programs, and halfway houses. The application of these programs to special offender groups, as well as to the larger population of adult male offenders, is addressed. The overall effectiveness of community-based correction programs is also evaluated.

Dr. Martha Hurley’s Spring 2015 Community Based Corrections Course Description at Texas A&M University Commerce

A study of probation, parole, diversion, pre-trial release, and intermediate sanctions. A critical analysis of the statutes and policies relating to the administration of community-based correctional programs. Specifically, this course will highlight critical issues and trends in community-based corrections as well as evaluate the practice of community corrections nationwide. Special emphasis will be placed on exploring the development of community corrections, including probation, parole, intermediate punishments, special offenders in the community, and juvenile offenders in the community.

Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives web_admin Thu, 12/16/2021 - 11:27

The learning objectives will communicate to the prospective students why they are taking the course and what they can expect to learn from it. Further, it will also serve as a reminder to you, the instructor, what the key aims of the course were and help keep your course focused (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014). Again, like the course description, in some cases the university or others at your institution may already have mandated course objectives that must be included in your syllabus.

While it is understood that criminal justice programs and universities have the dual goals of promoting a broad liberal arts education in addition to meeting the vocational needs of the field (Baker, Holcomb, & Baker, 2016; Flanagan, 2000), this guide will naturally express some bias towards practical knowledge and skill areas for the students’ eventual workplace. However, recent research by Garland & Matz (2016) associated with this project demonstrated that both practitioners in the field and college faculty recognize the importance of universal skills such as critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and interpersonal skills.

As Svinicki & McKeachie (2014) explain, the learning objectives and goals of the course should reflect and “…facilitate student learning and thinking in general” (p. 8). Further, learning objectives may require different levels of complexity. Despite its age, Bloom’s taxonomy remains a useful resource for course objective development (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001; Bloom, 1956). The taxonomy is characterized by six levels of learning including knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. The first level, knowledge, requires students to recall information; comprehension involves further interpretation; application requires students to use what they’ve learned to solve a problem; analysis includes the examination of assumptions and hypotheses; synthesis refers to the integration of numerous ideas into a single project; and finally evaluation concerns students' ability to assess and critique what they have learned. Anderson and colleagues (2001) later added “creation” as a seventh level. The following is a list of sample verbs associated with these levels of learning that may aid the development of new learning objectives (Nilson, 2010, pp. 22-23; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014).

Level Sample Verbs
Knowledge Define
Comprehension Explain
Application Compute
Analysis Compare
Synthesis Arrange
Evaluation Critique
Creation Reorganize

The following are samples of learning objectives from community corrections courses from several colleges and universities.

Mr. Edward Mosley’s Fall/Spring 2013-2014 Community Corrections: Probation and Parole Course Learning Objectives at Passaic County Community College

  1. Explain how probation and parole relate to other components of the criminal justice system.
  2. Describe the types of sentencing schemes in use.
  3. Explain the history of probation in the United States.
  4. Differentiate between the medical model of treating offenders versus the rehabilitation model.
  5. Explain the principles which underlie the alternative dispute resolution concept.
  6. Describe the goals of community corrections.

Dr. Faith Lutze’s Spring 2014 Community Corrections Course Learning Objectives at Washington State University

  1. Defining the Problem through Statistics
    1. Provide a foundation of understanding based on social science research and statistics about the extent of offender supervision in the United States.
    2. Provide a clear understanding of the pattern and type of supervision utilized in the United States.
  2. Create an understanding of the social, political, and professional context of community corrections
    1. Provide a simple overview of the multiple frameworks influencing community corrections supervision.
    2. Develop a new paradigm to conceptualize the importance of community corrections to the success of the criminal justice system.
    3. Begin a discussion informed by science, theory, and personal/professional experience about evidence based practices in community supervision.
  3. Understanding the Experiential Context of Supervision
    1. Create an understanding of the social and personal context in which supervision takes place.
    2. Outline the importance of multiple interventions including sanctions, support, and treatment.
    3. Develop an understanding of community supervision as a “human profession.”
  4. Integrating Systems in Response to Community Supervision and Offender Needs
    1. Provide a framework for understanding how system level responses must be connected to the reality of professional contexts, communities, and offenders.
    2. Identify how complex problems require complex solutions and interagency collaboration.
    3. Provide the foundations for creating solutions to complex social problems.
  5. Achieving Change and Taking Action
    1. Learn how to translate social science into effective policy.
    2. Empower future professionals to implement evidence based practices.

Dr. Martha Hurley’s Spring 2015 Community Based Corrections Course Learning Objectives at Texas A&M University Commerce

  1. The student will obtain a basic understanding of community corrections concepts.
  2. The student will understand the policy implications of community corrections practice.
  3. The student will be able to put community corrections practice in a national context.
  4. The student will learn how to think critically about community corrections issues.

Mr. Donald Rallyson’s Spring 2015 Introduction to Community Based Corrections Course Learning Objectives at WOR-WIC Community College

  1. Describe the objectives of community based corrections.
  2. Describe and discuss various diversion programs in the criminal justice system.
  3. Identify and discuss various economic sanctions to include fines, fees, restitution, and community service.
  4. Understand and discuss the historical development, program planning, and operations of community residential centers (halfway houses).
  5. Describe pre-trial release, temporary release programs, and parole.
  6. Discuss special problems and need of female offenders.
  7. Understand and describe in detail various programs for juveniles, and the difference in criminal justice and juvenile justice.
  8. Identify special needs, problems, and concerns of drug and alcohol offenders.

American Public University’s Probation and Parole Course Learning Objectives

  1. Identify various types of community corrections programs.
  2. Explain the factors involved in the decision to release one from detention.
  3. Explain the purpose and contents of the presentence investigation report.
  4. Describe how probation is organized and operates.
  5. Identify the importance of caseload classification in identifying risk and needs.
  6. Identify the types of educational and character qualifications needed to manage a caseload of offenders.
  7. Identify how probation conditions are modified and under what circumstances.
  8. Identify the various types of residential community corrections facilities.
  9. Examine how restorative principles and practices differ from traditional criminal justice practices.
  10. Distinguish the roles of discretionary parole and mandatory supervised release.
  11. Examine the preparations needed for the reentry process while the offender is still incarcerated.
  12. Analyze the similarities and differences between the juvenile and adult justice systems.
  13. Describe how rights are lost as a result of conviction.


Textbooks web_admin Thu, 12/16/2021 - 11:44

Especially at the undergraduate level, courses will almost always be organized around one or two key textbooks. There are several prominent publishers that provide textbooks covering community corrections. In most cases, review copies can be obtained by prospective educators directly from the publishers (at no cost to you).

The adoption of a given textbook often comes with a variety of supporting documents and tools for educators. These additions may include test questions, chapter outlines, class exercises, PowerPoints (PPT), audio and video clips, bibliographies, and more. While supplemental materials are also provided for students with their textbooks, these materials often go unused unless required by the instructor and therefore should weigh less in a professor’s decision-making (Berry, Cook, Hill, & Stevens, 2011). Note, textbooks typically include learning objectives within each chapter which can guide the day-to-day classroom curricula in addition to the higher-level syllabus. Indeed, the learning objectives and those contained within the selected textbook should be compatible (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014). In addition, it is preferable that if you use a textbook you should generally plan on following the order of material as presented in the text. Students can find it frustrating and disorienting if the professor continually skips back and forth through book chapters.

Finally, consider the number and costs of the textbooks you will use. Books that have many editions but minor alterations may be more readily available and considerably cheaper than the newest edition or new first-editions. While costs shouldn’t drive your selection, students will experience less consternation if the books are at least moderately affordable, as books represent a significant portion of their financial burden in college (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014).

Below is a sample of community corrections textbooks currently available from a variety of well-known publishers.

Alarid, L. F. (2016). Community-based corrections (11th ed.). Cengage Learning. Locate review copy information here.

Bayens, G., & Smykla, J. O. (2012). Probation, parole, and community-based corrections: Supervision, treatment, and evidence-based practices (1st ed.). McGraw-Hill Education. Locate review copy information here.

Champion, D. J. (2007). Probation, parole and community corrections (6th ed.). Prentice Hall. Locate review copy information here.

Hanser, R. D. (2013). Community corrections (2nd ed.). Sage. Locate review copy information here.

Hemmens, C., Belbot, B., & Bennett, K. (2013). Significant cases in corrections (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. Locate review copy information here.

Latessa, E. J., & Smith, P. (2015). Corrections in the community (6th ed.). Routledge. Locate review copy information here.

Lutze, F. E. (2014). Professional lives of community corrections officers: The invisible side of reentry. Sage. Locate review copy information here.

Taxman, F. S., & Belenko, S. (2012). Implementing evidence-based practices in community corrections and addiction treatment. Springer. Locate review copy information here.

Other Syllabus Considerations

Other Syllabus Considerations web_admin Thu, 12/16/2021 - 11:45

Assignments and Grading

The syllabus should include a listing of all assignments, homework, quizzes, exams, papers, and their relationship to the grading scale. While instructors may take numerous unique approaches to formulating their grade scale, it is important that it is clearly communicated to the student. In addition, if the professor intends to use a curve on exams or provide opportunities for extra credit these should be clearly articulated in the syllabus as well (for more on grading see Nilson, 2010, pp. 301-314; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014, pp. 125-134).

Class and College Policies

Professors will want to outline class policies regarding attendance, tardiness, and incivility. The university or college may also have policies regarding attendance that must be adhered to. This is also the opportunity to state the policy for making up missed exams or assignments and any associated penalties with their delay. Other policies include any safety procedures, support services, disability accommodations, as well as academic dishonesty and plagiarism rules, in which case your institution likely possesses standardized language to be used in the syllabus (Nilson, 2010).  

Course Outline

Generally the last, but perhaps most useful, section of the syllabus will be the course outline. The outline can vary in detail by instructor, but generally it will contain a listing of the dates of the class, topics to be covered on a given date, and any readings, assignments, or exams associated with those dates. It’s important to recognize any holidays and breaks on the outline as well. 

In addition to the course title, professor contact, description, learning objectives, required textbooks, assignments, grading scale, policies, and outline; some may choose to include a bibliography of related readings, a legal disclaimer, and a copy of your biography and/or teaching philosophy (Nilson, 2010).

Recommended Readings

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Baker, W. M., Holocomb, J. E., & Baker, D. B. (2016). An assessment of the relative importance of criminal justice learning objectives. Journal of Criminal Justice Education. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/10511253.2016.1172650

Grunert O’Brien, J., Mills, B. J., & Cohen, M. W. (2008). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (14th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.