The field of criminal justice is made up of a large group of related occupations, all centered on solving crimes, holding people accountable, and where feasible, helping them rehabilitate and re-enter society.
Students and potential students who enjoy helping others, promoting safety and find they have an interest in one of the many rewarding facets of this type of work stand to benefit from looking at what criminal justice degrees and occupations have to offer.
A report issued in 1969 by the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice set the tone for today’s criminal justice system. The report, “The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society,” provided hundreds of recommendations that have evolved through the years into a cooperative, collaborative approach to solving and preventing crime in the United States.
The U.S. maintains a criminal justice system that provides a vehicle to enforce standards of conduct in society that are necessary to protect our communities and us as individuals. After completing a degree in criminal justice and becoming a professional in the criminal justice field, you may have the opportunity to make important contributions towards furthering these goals.
The criminal justice field includes a broad variety of occupations and jobs, helping many people find their dream career and making criminal justice degrees an investment that could lead you to your true calling in life. Check out the options available in your state by taking advantage of our site’s quick, easy search features.
What Types of Jobs, Exactly, are in the Criminal Justice Field?
Criminal justice careers encompass such a large group of interesting jobs that most people are surprised when they see them listed out. Following is a brief overview, broken down into different tiers by type of coverage.
Law Enforcement – Local
- Police for Parks and Recreation
- Police for Transit Authority
- Sheriff’s Department
- Justice Centers for Juveniles
Law Enforcement – State
- Crime Laboratories
- State Crime Commission
- State Court system
- Office of the Attorney General
Law Enforcement – Federal
- The Department of Homeland Security
- The Drug Enforcement Administration
- The Department of Justice
- The Department of Defense (DOD)
- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
- The U.S. Secret service
- The Department of Transportation
- The Office of the Inspector General
- The Federal Trade Commission
- Veteran’s Affairs
- The Immigration & Naturalization Service
- The Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
Law Enforcement – Private
- Private Detective
- Safety Officer
- Security Officer
- Insurance Company Investigator
Within each of these groups are many specific jobs, too numerous to name. You can choose to specialize in forensic science, work as a youth counselor in a correctional treatment center or become a paralegal that specializes in a certain type of law such as employment, insurance or estate planning.
Some students leverage off their criminal justice degree and go on to law school, with the goal of working as a criminal litigator for a law firm, in the District Attorney’s office as a public defender or in their own private practice.
A Day in the Life of…
Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what a job is all about until you know what the day-to-day activities consist of. Federal law enforcement jobs, for example, usually focus on large-scale crimes or those posing a national threat. This could involve white-collar crimes such as fraud and embezzlement; homicide, crime rings or drugs and weapons trafficking.
Federal agents spend a good deal of time traveling, and may need to relocate often, depending on the nature of their assignment. Days might consist of surveillance work, collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses and suspects and making raids and arrests. For several criminal justice careers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website provides additional information on the nature of daily responsibilities and tasks.
How’s the Pay?
Criminal justice salaries run the gamut — depending on your chosen career path, entry-level salaries might start in the $30,000 to $50,000 range, with opportunities to grow your expertise level and achieve a six-figure salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s salary data for Police personnel, average salaries for full-time workers ranged from $49,421 per year for a Police corporal to $113,930 annually for a Police chief. After 20 years of service, a large number of police officers retire and receive a benefit of half-pay.
Another category, detectives and criminal investigators, has similar salary ranges, depending in part on a worker’s chosen industry. Local governments, the largest employers for detectives and criminal investigators, pay on average $61,930 per year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s May 2010 salary statistics. Federal entities make up the second-largest employer, with mean annual wages of $93,210 in 2010. State governments averaged $54,340 per year, while students that go on to teach at universities, colleges and professional schools make, on average, $62,300 per year. The U.S. postal service, offering eight percent of the industry’s criminal investigator and detective jobs, pays an average of $90,770 per year.
Criminal Justice Degrees
Along with the diverse selection of career opportunities in criminal justice, students have their choice of several levels of degree programs, depending on their needs and career goals. At the certificate level, accredited programs exist for career options such as jobs in Homeland Security, occupational safety and paralegal work.
- Associate’s Degrees
An associate’s degree usually involves a two-year, full-time curriculum. Criminal justice colleges offering these programs usually grant an associate’s degree in criminal justice or paralegal studies. Some programs may offer specialization in certain areas, such as Homeland Security. Use our search engine to run a search by degree type to find more options available at the associate’s degree level.
- Bachelor’s Degrees
Criminal justice schools offering bachelor’s degrees provide a variety of programs, branching off into several fields. Students might choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with an emphasis in substance abuse. Bachelor’s degrees are also awarded for paralegal studies and court reporting. Baccalaureate criminal justice degrees allow students to specialize in programs such as forensic science, education and public policy, social science and corrections and juvenile justice studies.
- Master’s, Doctorate and J.D. Degrees
Criminal justice degrees at the master’s and doctorate levels provide opportunities for students to explore additional career options such as a certified fraud examiner, with completion of a master’s degree in accounting and financial management. Students may also choose to pursue an MBA and use it in one of the criminal justice careers.
Forensic psychology, disaster management and public health are a few of the other focus areas for a master’s degree. Doctoral students may choose to pursue a PhD in addiction psychology, social work, leadership & policy, or family and intervention studies just to name a few focus areas. Students may also pursue a Juris Doctor, or law degree, to further their career in criminal justice as an attorney.
Criminal Justice Schools — Choosing the Right Program
Choosing the right criminal justice program is a personal process of understanding your unique needs and desires. We strive to provide you with one of the most comprehensive sources of information for criminal justice careers, campus based- and online schools.
The process of comparing schools may help you refine your decision; make sure to request information from several schools that offer the type of program you want and the quality education you deserve.
While conducting your school search, it’s worth noting that, as with anything in life, there are always some bad apples. Some criminal justice schools may not offer a quality education — any type of college should be investigated to make sure their claims are legitimate and your time and money are well spent. A few things to think about may help you find the program that is right for you. Consider the following points:
- Choose online schools that have received accreditation. The accreditation process holds online schools and campus-based schools to certain standards to ensure that students leave with a degree that actually means something.
- Check the Better Business Bureau and other regulatory bodies to see if a school has had any complaints filed.
- Weigh the costs of student loans against the quality of the education, time to complete the program, and earning prospects once you graduate.
- Find out the graduation rate for schools under consideration. Low graduation rates might reveal poor quality instruction, lack or resources to invest in students, or other issues that prevent the school from giving students enough support to complete their education.
- Look for schools that offer flexibility with class schedules, such as a blend of online school instruction and classroom courses.
- Find out what types of resources the school offers its students, such as child care for classes on campus, free tutoring or job placement assistance. For schools offering job placement assistance, speak to someone who can tell you the job placement program’s success rate and the types of jobs students have been able to get through the program.