What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is a broad career field that deals with the prevention, detection, and punishment of crimes. The criminal justice system encompasses three key components: law enforcement, which is responsible for protecting the public, enforcing local and state laws, investigating crimes, and apprehending offenders; the courts, which are responsible for trying the offenders and prescribing the proper sentence when a crime has been committed; and the corrections system, which is charged with enforcing the sentence handed down by the court. All three play an important part in ensuring that the criminal justice system operates smoothly.
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Michigan State University
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Criminal Justice Degrees Online
For busy professionals there are many options for online criminal justice degree programs. Whether you want to earn your associates, bachelors or graduate level degree, students in all 50 states can find options. The first thing you will want to look at is whether the program is offered 100% online, or if there are campus requirements throughout the semester. Since most colleges offer online programs, employers are hiring more graduates of these programs.
In online programs, you will likely watch video lectures, download course materials, and use online text to learn from. You will likely communicate with your peers and professors via discussion boards, email, and sometimes Google hangouts and other video conferencing tools.
Just like many campus programs, many online criminal justice degrees let students choose a minor in such areas as homeland security, organizational leadership, and law and society. Courses in most online programs can give you a solid foundation in several areas, including: corrections, domestic violence, white collar crime, diversity, and other areas.
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What Courses Do I Need to Complete a Degree in Criminal Justice?
Most bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice require you to take courses in policing, criminology, criminal theory, statistics, criminal law, legal writing, criminal justice research, corrections, public policy, or public administration, law enforcement, psychology, sociology and criminal analysis. If you’re planning on pursuing a criminal justice degree at the graduate level, your courses will likely be more specialized depending on the type of program you’re enrolled in. Graduate and doctoral students are also expected to conduct independent research, which is usually presented in the form of a thesis or dissertation.
Types of Criminal Justice Degrees
Are you thinking about pursuing a career in criminal justice? If so, there are many career paths you can choose. In fact, no matter what subjects were your favorites or strengths in school, there are criminal justice programs that can be a good fit for you. Even students who have a passion for art can pursue a career as a forensic artist, helping the police sketch suspects and work with witnesses to criminal activity to draw from their memories. Or, if you love math and numbers, why not consider forensic accounting?
Here are some types of criminal justice degrees that you can pursue:
Criminal Justice Degree
Associates, Bachelors, Masters, Doctoral – this general program can prepare you for a variety of career options in the field. As you reach higher levels you can typically add specializations to your major so you can be qualified for specific areas in the field. Many graduates of master’s and doctoral level programs can find work in academic institutions as well.
These programs can go by different names, but are targeted toward people who want to become police officers, detectives, sheriff, and other roles that deal directly with criminals and suspects.
The criminal justice systems needs to understand and help rehabilitate as many people as possible. Counselors and psychologists can work at many types of facilities and earn degrees that focus on specific populations or aspects of the system.
This degree program is sometimes paired with law degree programs. This subject helps students understand the social aspects of criminal behavior. Psychology and sociology are major topics of this program.
If you earn your degree in paralegal studies or pursue law school, you can work in the field of criminal justice. Whether you want to become a prosecuting attorney or serve the defense in criminal trials.
What Can I Do with a Criminal Justice Degree?
The criminal justice field offers a number of different career paths to choose from, depending on which part of the system you want to work in. For example, if you’re interested in law enforcement at the local level, you may consider pursuing a career as a police officer or sheriff’s deputy. Law enforcement careers at the federal level include working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Patrol, the Forestry Department, or any number of government agencies. Career tracks within the correctional system include working as a probation or parole officer, prison guard, or jailer. If the idea of working in the court system interests you, you might consider working as clerk of court, court reporter, bailiff, or paralegal.
As you can see from the types of criminal justice degrees, there are so many types of careers you can pursue through this field of education. With your degree in criminal justice, you can work as:
Police officer or detective
If you earn your bachelor’s or masters in criminal justice you can make an impact in the field and work to stop criminals directly in your role.
You can work in the courts, police departments, and other types of law enforcement facilities.
Many graduates of criminal justice programs go on to help convicted criminals as they transition back into the population. Working as a probation offer is possible with your bachelor’s degree.
Attorneys are an important part of the criminal justice field. These types of programs are separate from your typical criminal justice degree program. Sometimes paralegal studies is offered as a certification you can earn along with your degree in criminal justice.
Working as a corrections officer involves watching over people who are being held by law enforcement agencies. These can be prisoners in a jail who have been convicted, as well as those who are awaiting trial.
Criminal Justice Careers
The world of criminal justice is far-reaching, as evidenced by the wide varieties in the field that you can consider. The most common type of criminal justice careers are police officer, probation officer, lawyers, paralegals, and forensics technicians.
Here are some common criminal justice careers and their salary potential:
If you want to work as a police officer, your annual salary, according to 2015 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Source) will be $60,270 per year.
Probation officers can earn a median wage of $49,360 per year, according to the same BLSdata . To work in this field you will need your bachelor’s degree and pass a psychological evaluation.
Lawyers who work in the field can earn a median wage of $115,820 per year according to the Department of Labor Statistics (BLS). To work as a lawyer, you’ll need a law degree and pass your state’s exam requirements.
Paralegals can earn an average wage of $48,810 per year – BLS.
Forensic technicians can earn $56,320, according to the BLS. These workers can qualify for employment with their bachelor’s degree, usually in biology or chemistry, but having criminal justice as a major can help students understand the full scope of this role.
There are many other criminal justice career options, such as forensic accountant, criminal profiler, crime scene investigator, detective, and more. If you are serious about figuring out what you can do with a degree in criminal justice, contact schools in your area to learn more. Then compare your local options to online programs that align with your state’s requirements for the occupation you want.
Criminal Justice Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall demand for individuals working in the courts and law enforcement is expected to grow by 7 percent through 2020. The demand for correctional officers is expected to increase by about 5 percent. These rates of growth are relative compared to the projected 18 to 19 percent increase for paralegals and crime scene technicians. As of 2010, the average salary for law enforcement officers was $55,010 while correctional officers and court employees earned $39,040 and $34,390 respectively. Paralegals earned a median annual wage of $46,680 while crime scene technicians earned approximately $51,570. Individuals working at the federal level or for private employers tended to earn the highest wages.