By Alexa Puntiel
The criminal justice system has immensely changed throughout the past 50 years, and as someone who has worked inside the system, criminal justice professor John Paitakes details exactly how in his recently released book, “50 Years Working in Criminal Justice.”
Before taking up a job in the industry as a probation officer, Paitakes was unemployed. He served 25 years in the criminal justice system and rose up in the ranks as a probation officer to supervisor and, ultimately, assistant chief.
Now, while teaching as an adjunct at both Rider and Seton Hall, he works part time on the New Jersey State parole board.
With law enforcement under a microscope since police brutality videos started circulating online, Paitakes believes there are many misconceptions about the field.
According to Paitakes, the average American receives their information from news media, which doesn’t show the “complete picture” of the criminal justice system.
“I have worked with numerous police officers and taught in the police academy, and most of them are there for the right reason,” he said. “They are saving a lot of people’s lives, they are delivering babies, they are mentoring kids. Really, a lot of what they do is social work.”
Throughout the years, Paitakes has learned many important lessons about the criminal justice system while working as a probation officer.
“You learn why people cause crimes — and there are a lot of different reasons why — and some of it is because they didn’t have enough support in their own homes or they didn’t know who their parents, or they were drug-involved,” he said.
He went on to explain how mental health issues play a part in why people commit crimes.
“With that comes the realization that there’s not a solvable solution in every case,” he said.
Yet, while working as a probation officer, he found another aspiring interest in teaching. Paitakes has taught 20 different criminal justice courses while at Seton Hall. He was also an internship coordinator for the department.
“I had made a lot of contacts with other agencies in the state, so I was able to get students a lot of internships in different positions throughout the state,” he said.
As a professor at Rider and Seton Hall, Paitakes has influenced many of his students with his experience.
Senior sociology major Lisa Gottel said, “within these past few months of having Dr. Paitakes as a professor, I have absolutely learned a lot.”
Gottel added that Paitakes’ use of personal experiences in his lessons has benefitted her “tremendously.”
“It has been much more helpful to hear what actually happens in the everyday life of a probation officer from a probation officer, [rather] than to [read] it from a book. I think that is something a lot of students appreciate,” she said.
With his vast experience in the criminal justice system, many students appreciate having an instructor who knows what the job is like in the field rather than inside the classroom.
Paitakes decided to self-publish “50 Years Working in Criminal Justice” with the hopes of inspiring students to work in the industry.
While the book talks about the field of criminal justice, it also details how Paitakes got started in a biographical section.
“My father was an immigrant from Greece and education was a big thing in our family, and he could only afford to put me through,” he said. “So I go into a couple of chapters on my [biography], and how I got into the system and some of the things that helped me move ahead in the system.”
With this 50th year milestone in his career, Paitakes felt he had “something to offer” with his extensive experience in the field.
“I think it’s a good hands-on type of text that a student who is interested in the field would gain valuable tips [from,]” he said. “And that’s what I want to do: share my experience for once and hopefully it would be helpful to other students.”
Published in the 11/15/17 edition.