Criminal Justice Shared Passion for Unterreiners


CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., May 1, 2012 – A Southeast Missouri State University adjunct faculty member, Steve Unterreiner, his wife Debbie Unterreiner, and one of their sons, Mark Unterreiner, all graduated from the University with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. Their youngest son, John Unterreiner, is a current criminal justice major at Southeast.

“The field of criminal justice is an exciting one, because no two days are alike. Dealing with offenders can be quite challenging but also very rewarding. A probation officer has to hold offenders accountable but also has to believe that people can change and become productive citizens,” said Steve Unterreiner, who also earned his master’s degree in psychological counseling at the University.

“I had great teachers at Southeast when I was going through the program. Many of my criminal justice teachers had practical experience in the field, which made the classes very interesting. The criminal justice program was fairly new when I went through it. Teachers like Dr. Mike Brown and Dr. Bob Briner took a great interest in students and were always willing to answer questions and talk about the field of criminal justice,” Steve Unterreiner said.

His criminal justice career began when he became a probation officer in 1978 in Cape Girardeau. His first promotion came in 1986, and his assignment was to begin Intensive Supervision Programs (ISP) throughout southeast Missouri. Programs of this type were then becoming popular, and Missouri was just beginning to implement them.

“I would say that was one of my career highlights, being involved in getting ISP programs going in multiple counties in southeast Missouri,” he said.

He was a probation officer, unit supervisor, regional training coordinator and district administrator during his tenure with the agency. He is now in his 25th year of teaching in the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology at Southeast. He received his master’s degree in December of 1985 and taught his first course at Southeast the following semester. He is also currently a trainer for the National Institute of Corrections.

“I had an opportunity to work with many great people, including judges, lawyers, counselors and other probation and parole staff. I love being able to pass on my experiences not only to my sons but to my students who are interested in the field,” Steve Unterreiner said.

His wife, Debbie Unterreiner, also was a criminal justice major and worked as a juvenile officer in Cape Girardeau County before returning to Southeast to earn her master’s degree in psychological counseling and entering the counseling field.

“Debbie knows more about people and behavior than all of us put together and has always been a great resource for me and the boys. She encouraged me to finish my master’s degree many years ago, which has allowed me to teach for the past 25 years,” he said.

One of their sons, Mark Unterreiner, who also received his master’s degree in criminal justice through Southeast’s cooperative program with Missouri Southern State University, a was hired by the United States Probation Office in Cape Girardeau as a federal probation officer after completing an internship at the federal courthouse while attending Southeast.

“I always admired the work my mom and dad did because I know how much their efforts impacted other people in a positive way,” he said. “And the more I learned about my dad’s job in probation and parole, the more interested I became in being a part of it. My brothers and I have always looked up to our parents as true role models, so I guess that’s why I gravitated towards criminal justice – to be more like them.”

His first job in criminal justice was with the juvenile office of the 32nd Judicial Circuit in Missouri, of which Randy Rhodes, Southeast adjunct professor, is chief juvenile officer.

“I am very grateful for him giving me the opportunity to work for him. That job really got me started with criminal justice, so I owe a lot to Randy,” Mark Unterreiner said.

He said the opportunity to help keep the community safe and to help ex-offenders find the strength and confidence to overcome their previous mistakes is what most excites him about working in criminal justice. He said he originally wanted to be a counselor, like his mother, until he took his first criminal justice class as an elective at Southeast.

“It really interested me, and I realized, at that point, that I could combine my counseling and criminal justice interests into a job as a probation and parole officer,” Mark Unterreiner said, adding, “Southeast provided me with an understanding of the criminal justice system. The instructors did an excellent job of relating textbook lessons to real-life situations. And the Southeast Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology has connections with many local criminal justice agencies, so it is not difficult to find someone in the field to get advice from. In fact, I owe Southeast for linking me to my internship with U.S. Pretrial Services, which ultimately helped me get to where I am today.”

Mark Unterreiner said his father also helped teach him about the field and develop as a probation officer.

“I have big shoes to fill. Dad would never tell you this, but from what I’ve heard, he was great at what he did both as a probation and parole officer and a supervisor. It gives me something to strive for – to be as good as he was,” Mark Unterreiner said.

“I am very proud of Mark and all that he has accomplished at such a young age,” Steve Unterreiner said.

When asked why he chose to go into criminal justice, the Unterreiners’ youngest son, John Unterreiner, credits his father and brother with inspiring him.

“I remember going to my dad’s retirement party from the state, and everybody loved him and spoke so highly of him, and I just thought my dad was pretty special in this field, and it’s something that I’d like to experience. When Mark was sworn in as a probation officer, I remember being high up in the courthouse in St. Louis, and I thought it was pretty awesome. He had already accomplished a rare feat, and he was just getting started. I usually don’t get too mushy or sentimental when it comes to my brothers, but I remember being pretty proud of Mark that day,” said John Unterreiner, who is currently interning at the Federal Probation and Parole Office, where his brother works.

There he writes reports, mails letters and calls offenders, among other responsibilities.

“My internship is fantastic. Everybody in the office has been great to work with and really personable and fun to be around,” he said, adding, “The thing that excited me the most about this field is being social and actively helping people. Probation officers, for example, are constantly on the phone or meeting with people. They are helping people who need help, and that’s pretty exciting to me.”

John Unterreiner also had the opportunity to attend the Center for Strategic and International Studies Seminar in March in Washington, D.C.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “The one thing that I was impressed with was the variety of topics that they presented to us. It was not simply focused on government issues, but they really branched out and threw a lot of cool information at us. I am used to studying criminal justice and psychology, so learning about new areas and concepts is always entertaining for me.”

Steve Unterreiner said he did not encourage his sons to go into criminal justice, but he appreciates that the family’s shared interest allows them to talk shop together.

“I enjoy hearing about Mark’s work and all that is currently going on in the field,” he said.

“We are always talking about the latest happenings in law enforcement and corrections,” Mark Unterreiner added. “Dad and I share our various experiences in the field, and it is interesting to see how things have changed over the years and across jurisdictions. Sometimes I will ask him how he’d handle certain situations with ex-offenders.”

“Being around a brother and dad who work in the field certainly helps, because you become familiar with some terms and scenarios that other people aren’t necessarily exposed to like I was,” John Unterreiner said.

The Unterreiners’ oldest son, David Unterreiner, graduated from the University of Missouri and currently lives in Durango, Colo. Steve Unterreiner said he is a true outdoorsman and followed his passion to live where there are many outdoor activities. He is employed by the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and has been recognized as one of the best white-water rafting guides in Colorado.