When you decide to study for a career in Criminal Justice, you are forging your own path to make a difference. Whether you want to chase the bad guys, put them in prison, or work at an office solving diverse Criminal Justice dilemmas, a degree in Criminal Justice lets you acquire the necessary skills to navigate crime-solving technology advancements and complex judicial laws.
Criminal Justice is a social science involving agencies that identify and seek to control criminal behavior and patterns and impose penalties on criminal acts. There are three levels of the Criminal Justice system in the United States at the federal, state, and local levels working together toward the same goal.
Students of any Criminal Justice program must gain knowledge and understanding of the three components of the Criminal Justice system:
Law Enforcement: This is all about enforcing and full compliance with the law ensured by law enforcement agencies, police officers, and detectives.
Courts System: This consists of the members of and workers within the legal system like lawyers, judges, juries and other court staff. These people ensure that a fair trial is executed according to the rule of law.
Corrections System: This is comprised of the people who supervise convicted criminals or offenders. Probation and correctional officers come up with reports to help the judges or courts decide.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, most federal agencies and police departments look for applicants who have attended some college coursework or a 2 to a 4-year college degree.
Criminal Justice is a challenging field with many areas of study. Criminal Justice professionals often continue their education through attending degree programs like law, masters of public administration, or even information technology fields.
An Undergraduate Certificate in Criminal Justice is the basic educational attainment in the Criminal Justice field. This can be earned after completing 15 credit hours with a curriculum focusing on one topic area– Advanced Crime Analysis, Criminal Behavior, Leadership in Criminal Justice, Law and the Courts, Corrections or Victim Advocacy. Several well-known colleges and universities offer certificate programs in Criminal Justice through both traditional classes and non-traditional classes.
An Associate in Criminal Justice may be earned in two years with full-time study with 60 credits of the program to complete. Core courses include Introduction to Criminal Justice, Juvenile Justice Systems and Processes, Ethics and the Criminal Justice, and Criminal Law. An associate’s degree is a good step towards earning a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and is available through an on-campus and online format.
A Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice requires 120 credit hours for students to complete. The bachelor’s degree program consists of a wide variety of subjects. Its curriculum typically has core courses in Introduction to Major Problems in Criminal Justice, Criminal Responsibility, Understanding Criminal Behavior, Introduction to Criminal Justice, and Criminal Investigation. Some research focus courses may cover Special Topics in Criminal Justice Research, Death Penalty: Law and Policy, Investigating Cybercrime, and Rights of the Accused. The senior thesis may also be required. Students may earn either a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts degree.
A Master’s in Criminal Justice may be completed in two to three years with 36 to 40 credit hours required through either Master of Science or Master of Arts degree. Foundation courses of a master’s degree in Criminal Justice may include Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice Policy, Administration of Justice, Criminal Behavior and the Family, Youth Justice and Crime and a Criminal Justice Capstone. The degree program may also require three credit hours of a wide range of electives like Human Trafficking and Exploitation, Policing Issues around the Globe, Domestic and International Terrorism, Genocide and War Crimes and more. Graduates of this degree may take the path to become Criminal Justice instructors.
A Ph.D. in Criminal Justice provides students the expertise in the general field of Criminal Justice needed in the research or allows the graduates to direct research and teach at a post-secondary institution. Students may take core courses like Theories of Crime, Theoretical Foundations of Criminal Justice, Research/Analytical Writing, and more. Competence in comprehensive examinations, research methodology, and quantitative techniques are expected to earn the doctorate.
Criminal Justice students can opt to specialize in a variety of sub-fields. Studies of focus include:
Sociology provides students the knowledge about human behavior and the structure of groups, organizations, and societies. It also studies the relationship between cultures and what unites them. Community life, life patterns, family, relationships, social class, gender, race, the environment, and technology are some of the subjects covered.
Forensic Science helps you process a crime scene especially in collection, preservation, and analysis of evidence. This specialization also helps you learn forensic science, relevant medical history, traumatic injury, postmortem interval or lab tests. Psychological autopsies, hypnosis, and lie detection, and death-science investigation are also part of Forensic Science.
Homeland Security provides courses that help students learn how to demonstrate knowledge of homeland security and crisis management. Risk analysis and strategic communication for homeland security and crisis management, concepts of ethics and diversity relating to homeland security and crisis management, technology and critical infrastructure protection are some of the subjects provided.
Law Enforcement emphasizes the role of the police, the concepts of justice and societal issues, and the community support systems. Legal Issues, Miranda Rights, & Search Warrants, Handling Domestic Violence Cases, White Collar Crimes, and Ethical Considerations in Law Enforcement are some of the courses covered in this specialization.
Cybersecurity is also called an information security degree. This concentration provides students a curriculum in Applied Digital Forensic Investigation, IT Security Policies and Procedures, and Digital Forensics and Investigations. These courses help students learn how to assist individuals or businesses in protecting sensitive information, engaging in forensic analysis relevant to cyber incidents, and securing computer networks.
Criminal Scene Investigations focuses on evidence handling, interrogation and law enforcement techniques. Courses in this specialization help students learn forensics, crime scene photography, and management. The Criminal Mind, Professional Responsibility, and Ethics in Investigations, Crime Scenes and Investigating Crimes Against Property and the Private Sector are some of the classes in the coursework.
Corrections helps students learn diagnostic techniques, history, and philosophy of adult and juvenile correctional systems and facilities. Coursework may include Issues in Corrections, Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Theory, Professional Report Writing & Presentations, and Crisis Intervention and Communication in Corrections. Also, it may cover topics in organizational behavior, budgeting for law enforcement and employment & policy law for law enforcement.
Juvenile Justice allows students to learn about the differences between juvenile and adult justice systems. This specialization is perfect for students who want to make an influence on the lives of juvenile delinquents. Courses may include International Responses to Juvenile and Adult Offenders, Cooperative Study in Justice Policy Leadership, Corrections and Juvenile Justice Interventions and Mental Health/Substance Abuse Issues in the Correctional Setting.
Criminal Psychology lets students learn the strategies in conducting evaluations of the accused or alleged victims. This specialization applies psychological principles to the Criminal Justice system. Course options may cover Adult Psychopathology and Treatment, Biological Bases of Behavior, Drugs, Addiction and Crime, Psychotherapy, and Types and Characteristics of Crime.
Legal Studies provides an opportunity for students to gain an understanding of the fundamental principles of law. This includes business law, real estate law, patent and copyright, online fraud and environmental law. Students will also have to learn the branches of government and work on courses like introduction to legal studies, legal research and writing, legal ethics, family law, and global politics.
Difference Between Criminal Justice and Criminology
Both fields of Criminal Justice and criminology have common topics such as crimes, location, and timing of crimes. What sets them apart is that criminology, in its purest form, is an interdisciplinary field of sociology, which means it is the study of crime. On the other hand, Criminal Justice is the system in which crimes and criminals are identified, tried and punished.
Criminology also studies the causes, cost, and consequences of crime and includes biology, anthropology, psychology, law and various other fields focusing on criminals’ minds. This is to learn what and why crimes are committed, and these studies give ideas and exposure to how these crimes may be prevented. Criminal Justice discusses the system of criminal proceedings involving law enforcement or the police and lawyers, courts and corrections. It deals with what should be done after a crime happens.
Earning a degree in Criminal Justice is now possible through both on-campus and online format. Nowadays, nontraditional programs are offered with the same admission and curriculum requirements as the brick and mortar programs. Students of online classes enjoy the flexibility of attending classes wherever they are located. They are provided with online courses, written or video lectures, readings and assignment. They are also expected to take tests through discussion boards. Accredited online colleges allow adult students to get the same quality education with brick and mortar programs. Many of these colleges provide full access to the school’s library, and social interaction is possible through conferences and technology support.
Criminal Justice is a field which offers a great variety of job options. Graduates of the Criminal Justice program do a wide range of services for the public both early in their careers and for long-term professional stretch. Federal, state, and local government agencies and private organizations provide several lucrative jobs that await Criminal Justice degree holders.
The different branches of Criminal Justice offer a wide array of career opportunities like the following:
Police Officers maintain public peace and order, defend people and property, apprehend individuals who commit crimes and report crimes or suspicious activities. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports a favorable employment forecast for police officer careers which is likely to rise 7% within the next seven years. This is just about as fast as the average for all occupations. The median annual wage is $62,960.
Private Detective and Investigators gather facts, collect criminal evidence, verify statements, investigate crimes, and search for missing persons. They can also be court witnesses, participate in raids, investigate and psychoanalyze suspects. They have to be mindful of the law when studying as they lack police authority. The employment growth rate is at 11% which is faster than the average for all occupations, and the median annual salary is $50,700.
Correctional Officers and Bailiffs keep the order and safety of a prison facility or detention center. They also enforce rules within the jail or prisons, inspect facilities and inmates for contraband items. Bailiffs are sworn law enforcement officer who keeps courtrooms safe and in order. They escort and ensure the security of judges, prisoners, witnesses, and jurors. The median annual wage is $43,540.
Forensic Science Technicians collect shreds of evidence from the crime scene and analyzing them in laboratories. They perform scientific (chemical, biological, and microscopic) analyses from the crime scene. Research says employment of forensic science technicians is expected to be up 17% until the next seven years. The median annual wage is $57,850.
Criminal Law Paralegals assist lawyers by conducting research, organizing files, gather legal documents, summarize written reports, handling exhibits, calling clients and other lawyers for meetings and interviews. The job outlook for a paralegal is expected to grow 15% from the present to 2026 and the median annual wage sits at $50,410.
Probation Officers act as counselors for individuals who are on community service or drug rehabilitation. They do interviews, evaluate and provide probationers and parolees with resources. They write reports and case files for the individuals and may testify in court. Employment for probation officers is expected to grow by 6% within the next years. The median annual wage is $51,410.
Information Security Officers and Surveillance Officers prevent theft and maintain security systems in establishments, respectively. The projected growth rate for information security and surveillance officers are expected to be 6% for the next seven years. The median annual wage is $33,260.
Customs Inspectors inspect and investigate persons, goods and merchandise, passenger bags and cargo. Typically, they work in airports, seaports rail stations, and border crossings. Their responsibility is to prevent smugglers from bringing illegal goods, weapons or drugs into an area or country. They also ensure that shipment and other cargo do not violate laws.
Youth Correctional Counselors are employed by either the state or national government to rehabilitate and guide juvenile offenders to become productive citizens. Their job involves meeting with school officials, parents and law enforcement officers. They mainly have to discuss personal matters, relationships and specific behavior with the juvenile offenders.
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