Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Scott Thornsley Shares His Career Path and Views on the State of our Correction Systems

An experienced state government executive and now Professor and Criminal Justice Department Chair discusses his two distinct careers, his approach as a teacher and the outlook of a stressed prison system. We talked with Dr. Scott Thornsley, Associate Professor & Chair of the Criminal Justice Administration at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania.

How did you get into the criminal justice field and how has your career evolved from Corrections to Professor?

I spent 19 years in Pennsylvania Department of Corrections before entering the academic community. I was the Director of the Office of Legislative Affairs. Essentially, I was a lobbyist appointed by the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office and acted as a liaison with the state prison system and Pennsylvania General Assembly. I was a senior level executive, and represented the Governor’s Office and state Department of Corrections prison on legislative issues. I never actually worked in any prisons directly. I did the analysis on the bills, although the budget office and legal staffs were tapped as needed. I would build relationships and build momentum around this legislation. All my undertakings were policy related issues. For example, I orchestrated the change in the manner of execution from electrocution to lethal injection. For a decade, I worked on efforts to release prisoners early for undertaking efforts in education, vocation and treatment programs. I was also unsuccessful in getting private sector prison industries to be able to operate within our state prisons. I believe Oregon and other states did this with Federal support. The goal was to provide the inmates with a real life work experience for their resumes — it is a stabilizing influence as inmates with those jobs get paid a bit better and they don’t want to lose that position.

Stepping back, I started in undergrad in political science and criminal justice.  I took an internship at a prison in Pennsylvania, and was exposed to policy.  I really enjoyed prison policy and this aspect of criminal justice.  When I graduated in ‘73 from Mansfield State College, I immediately went to Sam Houston University and studied Corrections for graduate work.  I then went to work in Planning and Research for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, and then eventually moved to the lobbyist position. (more…)