Criminal justice is a multidisciplinary field that combines psychology, political science, the physical sciences, criminology, and sociology. Because the discipline is so broad, professionals working in criminal justice can hold many diverse roles, including criminal rehabilitation specialists, forensic investigators, victim advocates, and law enforcement officers. As a whole, the field of criminal justice continues to expand, mainly due to a growing focus on global terrorism and national borders. According to Data USA, more than 129,000 degrees in criminal justice and corrections were awarded in 2017. By earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, candidates are prepared to take on leadership roles in the field of criminal justice. Below, we take a look at some of the most common types of criminal justice jobs that one can pursue with an undergraduate degree.
Is Criminal Justice the Same as Criminology?
Even professionals employed in criminal justice often confuse the terms criminology and criminal justice. While they are related, those pursuing career opportunities in criminal justice or criminology should understand the difference between the two.
Criminology is the study of the anatomy of a crime, specifically its costs, consequences, and causes. On the other hand, criminal justice refers to the established systems in place for handling crime, specifically the detection of the crime, the detainment of criminals, prosecution of the offenders, and punishment. Careers in criminology include forensic psychology and criminal profiling, while careers in criminal justice include police officers, detectives, and investigators. In addition, some careers such as that of the forensic psychologist may overlap. Forensic psychologists can work in both criminology and criminal justice because they not only observe and study criminal behavior but also help in the investigation of crimes by profiling criminals and offering professional insight to jury selection and trial preparation.
Students completing a criminology program will study the sociological trends, backgrounds, and behavior patterns of criminals. Conversely, undergraduates earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree will study the various components of law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Despite their differences, both criminal justice professionals and criminologists must work together to detect and prevent crimes.
There is certainly something for everyone when it comes to criminology and criminal justice, so choosing the path to take will come down to a student’s talents and interests. In many cases, a decision is not necessary because they cover some of the same ground. Students trying to determine which academic major is best should first consider how they would like to serve their community and compile a list of possible career options. Only then may they consider the experience, training, and education necessary to achieve their goals.
What Kinds of Jobs Can I Get With a Criminal Justice Degree?
Students who earn a degree in criminal justice are trained to protect the environment, property, and human lives. Therefore, the criminal justice career paths that are available will vary depending on the concentration chosen as well as the level of a candidate’s training. The sections below provide an overview of some common entry-level criminal justice jobs that one can pursue with a bachelor’s degree. Keep in mind that the best criminal justice jobs are not only the ones that boast a positive job outlook and lucrative salary but also the positions that best match one’s professional interests.
1. Law Enforcement
Arguably the most common field that most think of when they first consider the types of jobs to get with a criminal justice degree, law enforcement involves protecting a community or city’s people and property. Professionals in law enforcement work to fight organized crime, public corruption, human trafficking, cybercrime, and even terrorism. Candidates without a bachelor’s degree must enter a police academy program and graduate in order to hold a position. Those with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice are exposed to courses in statistics, forensics, sociology, and criminology and may have an edge over candidates with only a high school degree. Occupations in law enforcement include police dispatchers, police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives, criminal investigators. Students interested in other types of law enforcement work can look forward to careers in forensic science and crime scene investigation, including positions as forensics ballistics experts, bloodstain pattern analysts, or forensic science technicians.
2. Homeland Security
Students who focus on homeland security within their bachelor’s degree in criminal justice learn the strategies, programs, and laws that the U.S. implements to prepare for and fight against terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Curriculum requirements will vary depending on the school, but most homeland security programs include advanced courses that cover the history of global terrorism, international drug trafficking, and the duties of first and second responders. Graduates who earn a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice degree with a concentration in homeland security are prepared for positions in government policy, intelligence analysis, and security software development. Career options include fire investigator or fire inspector, correctional treatment specialist or probation officer, intelligence analyst, transportation security screener, forensic science technician, information security analyst, or and emergency management director.
By earning either a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in criminology or a bachelor’s degree in criminology with a concentration in criminal justice, undergraduates develop the skills needed to understand, investigate, and rehabilitate deviant and criminal behavior. Advanced coursework may cover topics such as correctional practices, national security and intelligence, and policy analysis. Other concentrations within a standard bachelor’s degree in criminology may include areas such as public policy, homeland security, forensic science. Some graduates may choose to pursue either a generalized career in criminology or a specialized role as a research criminologist or diplomatic security advisor.
4. Emergency Management
Most students looking to work in the field of emergency management complete coursework in this area as part of a concentration within a broader undergraduate criminal justice program. Most schools offer a concentration in homeland security which covers advanced topics in emergency management, including ethics in public safety agencies, disaster planning and response, and critical incident management. Students hone their leadership skills and strengthen their program development knowledge to prepare for managerial roles in government, private, and nonprofit organizations. Careers in emergency management can include natural disaster relief coordinator, environmental health director, and occupational safety consultant.
Cybersecurity is a field within criminal justice that focuses on the prevention and evaluation of virtual crimes, including cyberterrorism, corporate blackmail, and identity theft. Those who pursue a bachelor’s in criminal justice but who are looking to work in cybersecurity can expect specialized courses in counterintelligence and intelligence, ethical hacking, and cryptography. Most positions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to work in the field, and career options include computer network architect, information security analyst, security administrator, security consultant, and security software developer.
6. Fire Science
Although not as widely known as law enforcement and homeland security, fire science involves the identification of potential fire hazards. Professionals working in this field are tasked with responding to fire-related disasters and emergencies. They are also responsible for overseeing fire safety training programs for company personnel, community members, and volunteers. While a college degree is not required to become a fire inspector or a firefighter, advanced careers typically require candidates to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, including employee safety director, forensic investigator, and conservation scientist.
7. Forensic Science
Popularized by prime time television shows such as “The First 48” and “CSI: Miami,” forensic science jobs are often considered to be among the more appealing career choices for criminal justice majors. The field of forensic science integrates research science, law, and criminology. Through rigorous courses in the sciences, including physics, chemistry, and biology as well as hands-on practicum experiences, undergraduates learn how to conduct true forensic investigations in laboratories and at crime scenes. They develop the skills and knowledge to successfully find and gather potential evidence, conduct tests to analyze the samples, and properly document information they have gathered for colleagues to use in criminal proceedings. Forensic science graduates may pursue careers as forensic engineers, forensic medical examiners, blood-spatter analysts, ballistics specialists, and crime scene investigators as well as psychological profilers, fiber technologists, homicide detectives, DNA analysts, and criminologists.
The corrections system is responsible for carrying out the punishments that have been pre-determined by the courts. Sentences and penalties can include parole, probation, incarceration, restitution, and fines. Some careers in corrections that criminal justice majors can pursue include positions as forensic psychologists, community control and probation officers, or correctional officers. While some occupations do not require a college degree, others require a minimum of a bachelor’s in criminal justice. In either case, graduating from an accredited criminal justice program can provide opportunities for advancement and higher salaries.
9. Private Security
The field of private security is much more complex than a solitary security guard pacing his rounds at midnight. In fact, the undergraduate classes in psychology, criminology, and sociology that criminal justice majors complete provide a solid foundation for work in private security. Both private businesses and government agencies alike depend on their security detail to prevent economic loss and crime as well as to handle emergencies. The term “rent-a-cop” aside, private security officers actually perform many of the same duties as traditional law enforcement personnel. Writing reports, intercepting a purse-snatcher or shoplifter, providing directions, helping with a medical emergency, and investigating a suspicious package are all in a day’s work for a private security officer. These individuals work in visible roles in settings such as casinos, hotels, hospitals, banks, shopping malls, department stores, office buildings, and courthouses.
10. State and Federal Courts
Many who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice are looking for careers that put them right in the middle of the action — in the courthouse. Criminal justice graduates are in a unique position to help their neighbors and friends who may be upset, confused, and angry about their entanglements with the U.S. legal system. Fortunately, working in the state or federal courts does not require the years of graduate-level study that is necessary for judges and attorneys. Among the available jobs for students with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice include family law mediator, pretrial services officers, and court operations specialist. Other career options include case administrator, court manager, criminal law supervisor, court clerk, courtroom assistant, and bailiff.
11. Social Services
Most of a criminal justice major’s college career is spent studying the causes of crime as well as the social forces within communities. This coursework provides a strong foundation for careers in public service, preparing students to act as family law mediators, human services assistants, public benefits interviewers, guidance counselors, child custody counselors, and social workers. In addition, students with a bachelor’s in criminal justice may consider working in a policy analyst or staff service position with a state agency such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the U.S. Department of Children and Family Services. Whether providing counseling to incarcerated adolescents in juvenile facilities, presenting drug and alcohol abuse prevention programs in the local schools, or working as a mediator for low-income families seeking food and/or cash assistance, working in social services with a criminal justice degree can be an extremely rewarding career path.
12. Human Resources
Students looking for criminal justice administration jobs might consider working in the field of human resources. Over recent years, HR, as a whole, has experienced explosive growth. This may be because more businesses are becoming exposed to legal liability regarding employment. Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice prepares college graduates for this type of work as these undergraduate programs focus on ethical considerations, modern social problems, and both the understanding and interpretation of state and federal laws. Those who work in human resources are generally involved in the recruiting, hiring, promoting, disciplining, and terminating of employees — all of which require these professionals to be compliant with anti-discrimination and contract laws. They may also make sure that a company adheres to its bargaining agreements and continues to act ethically. Working in the field of human resources, graduates may help to develop and update company policies, assist in arbitration hearings and mediations, and prepare employee handbooks and job application forms. Career titles in this sector include human resources generalist or specialist, training and development specialist, and human resources manager.
Believe it or not, but many criminal justice majors can pursue successful careers in the field of education. By earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and completing their state teaching credential, undergraduates are prepared for opportunities in academia that extend far beyond the teaching of children. In both the private and public sectors, adult education is booming, making a career as an instructional designer or trainer one of the best bachelor’s in criminal justice degree jobs out there. And, with the recent surge of distance and online learning for working students, there are more teaching jobs available than ever before. Among the skills that criminal justice majors develop through their college education are computer literacy, a strong understanding of moral values and ethics, decision-making skills, and the ability to research, compile, and present reports, documents, and presentations. Graduates may find may opportunities to combine law enforcement with teaching by working in federal and state government agencies. For instance, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration may hire candidates for positions such as program analyst, curriculum specialist, and instructor. Even the CIA has also been known to advertising for education and training specialists.
All criminal justice careers, regardless of industry, are based on one principle: to protect property and people by upholding the law. The criminal justice system is comprised of three major parts, including corrections, the courts, and law enforcement, but professionals can apply what they have learned in their criminal justice bachelor’s degree programs to other industries as well.
How Much Do Criminal Justice Majors Make?
Due to the many career options that one can pursue with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, narrowing down one’s earning potential to one single criminal justice degree salary is nearly impossible. In addition, several factors can affect how much one makes, including the level of education, area of specialization, years of experience in the field, employer, and the location in which one works. For the most part, however, criminal just bachelor’s degree jobs tend to be well-compensated, mainly because these positions both provide important services and are typically high on the stress scale.
Since corrections, forensics, criminal investigation, law enforcement, and legal jobs are hot commodities in today’s job market, earning a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice provides candidates with an advantage over non-college graduates. In other words, those who have earned a degree are not only equipped to take on more responsibilities than a high school graduate, but they are also entitled to command a higher salary. Keep in mind that the field of criminal justice may not be the best field for someone looking for a six-figure income. However, the range of career options and salaries means that there is something for everyone. Below are a sample of salaries one can expect in various areas within the field of criminal justice using data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In the legal profession, arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators earned an average salary of $62,270 per year as of May 2018, while court reporters earned $57,150 during the same time frame. Paralegals and legal assistants reported a yearly salary of $50,940.
Within the area of law enforcement, police and detectives brought home $63,380 per year as of May 2018. Private detectives and investigators earned $50,090, while security guards and gaming surveillance officers took home $28,530.
Those considering a career in forensics may be interested to know that criminal investigators earned $85,020 as of May 2018, and forensic science technicians earned $58,230 during the same time frame. While the BLS does not provide salary information for forensic psychologists, it does group the occupation into the broader category of “all psychologists,” who earned an average of $79,010 per year.
Finally, the field of corrections is arguably one of the most popular areas in which one can work with a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree. According to the BLS, correctional officers and jailers earned a mean annual wage of $49,300, and probation officers and correctional treatment specialists brought home $53,020 per year. The BLS also reports that first-line supervisors of correctional officers took home $68,350 as of May 2018.
Generous retirement benefits and competitive salaries are just a few benefits of completing a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree program. Beyond the job stability, security, and the potential for a comfortable retirement, criminal justice careers provide professionals with the knowledge and satisfaction of knowing that they are working to make a difference in the local community, state, country, and even the world.
What Can I Expect in a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Degree Program?
Undergraduate criminal justice degree programs are designed to provide students with the core competencies they need to succeed in the field. They also offer opportunities for students to receive further training through practicum experiences, concentration options, and advanced courses. Although curriculum requirements vary depending on the specific school, most programs consist of 120 credits of coursework, which most undergraduates complete in four years of full-time study.
At some institutions of higher learning, undergraduates may have the opportunity to complete a two-year accelerated track. However, these programs are generally geared toward distance learners as these students are typically older adults, returning students, and working professionals. Another method of acceleration is the degree-completion track in which students with an associate degree can take advantage of a direct-transfer pathway if they continue their studies at an approved in-state school.
Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice typically include coursework in legal traditions, judicial administration, and criminology. Students learn how to research best practices and guidelines as well as how to write professional documents. They may also dig into alternative rehabilitation methods through community-based programming, complex incarceration theories, and correctional programs. Depending on the school, students may have the opportunity to specialize their bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in an area such as legal studies, juvenile justice, law enforcement, homeland security, or crime scene investigation. Other common concentrations include computer science and cybercrimes, management and administration, human services, and forensics. Most undergraduate Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice degrees culminate in a practicum, capstone, or internship through which they develop career connections and gain real-world, hands-on experience.
So, is criminal justice a good degree? Absolutely. Not only are the career options for this major extensive, but many positions also come with lucrative salaries and rewarding experiences. In addition, criminal justice career opportunities continue to grow to meet the urgent demands for skilled specialists, researchers, and administrators. For example, according to the BLS, the employment of both emergency management directors and police and detectives will increase 5 percent between 2018 to 2028. Employment of private detectives and investigators is expected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Forensic science technicians will see a whopping 14 percent growth during this same time frame.
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