Criminal Justice At a Glance
Criminal justice can be a very exciting and rewarding field. Careers can range from law enforcement to criminology to even teaching or counseling. Students who have a passion for abating crime, respect for upholding the law, and a commitment to justice will likely find a degree plan that they are interested in pursuing. A degree in criminal justice can also be a great jumpstart for further education and career advancement training.
What is a criminal justice degree?
The primary goal of the criminal justice system is to deter and prevent crime by maintaining social order and control. To understand what this type of degree entails, you must first understand how the criminal justice system operates. It is broken into three main parts:
- The legislative system is responsible for creating the laws that govern the conduct of our society.
- The judiciary system interprets the law and administers justice through a network of courts.
- The corrections system is made up of government agencies that maintain and manage the prison systems.
These three parts all work together to ensure that the laws are properly upheld and obeyed; when laws are not followed, there are rules and policies in place to punish or rehabilitate those at fault. Earning a degree in this field can prepare students for a variety of careers. If you are interested in pursuing a job in law enforcement, court systems, crime investigation, or corrections, then this might be a good fit. Some students who study criminal justice may even go on to law school or continue their training and education in order to work for the FBI, CIA, or the Secret Service.
The criminal justice degree program has evolved over the years to give students a more comprehensive view and understanding of the entire field, as well as a look into the causes of crimes. Coursework for this type of degree will generally include the following:
- U.S. court systems
- Criminal courts
- Criminal procedure
- Criminal law
There are many accredited schools that offer this degree online or on campus. You can mix and match online classes and on-site experience depending on your preference and flexibility. Degrees available in this field are certificate programs, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees. The necessary educational requirements will depend on your career path and interest in advancement.
What can I do with a degree in criminal justice?
One advantage to a criminal justice degree is that it is so versatile, and there are many career opportunities available. The more education and training you obtain, the further you will be able to advance your career and increase your salary potential. Graduates with this type of degree go on to pursue careers in corrections, the court systems, law enforcement, security, law, and a variety of other fields. The 10 most popular career paths in this field are:
- Loss Prevention Investigator – An LP investigator’s responsibility is to protect a company’s assets by investigating losses to determine if any wrongdoing occurred. They do this by interviewing and interrogating employees and reading their behavior to determine whether or not they believe they are at fault.
- FBI Agent – FBI agents are law enforcement agents who protect and defend the U.S. against any foreign or terrorist threats. They uphold and enforce laws at every level. The FBI offers careers in intelligence analysis, information technology, applied science, linguistics, business management, FBI police, surveillance, and other areas.
- Crime Analyst – These analysts operate at every level in law enforcement, and most work for municipal or county police departments. They are responsible for finding and analyzing criminal trends, which in turn helps to create crime prevention methods and policies.
- Corrections Officer – These officers are in charge of supervising prisoners being held in a jail, prison, or other holding facilities, as well as the facilities themselves. They are also responsible for maintaining custody and care of any person who has been arrested and is awaiting trial.
- Police Detective – Detectives are investigators who are licensed to solve crimes. They can work for an agency or independently, and their work could include current or closed cases. In order to become a detective, you must complete police officer requirements as well as pass a written exam. Some states license private detectives based on passing an exam and requiring them to submit to a background check.
- Juvenile Probation Officer – Probation officers counsel and manage people who have been sentenced to probation as opposed to jail time. They monitor them and keep them on track by creating rehabilitation programs that they are required to follow. Juvenile probation officers generally work with adolescents under the age of 18.
- Loss Prevention Agent – LP agents are in charge of managing a company’s loss prevention by protecting their assets and monitoring the day-to-day training and management of their security equipment. Aspects of this job include reporting any losses and ensuring theft prevention.
- Loss Prevention Manager – LP managers are responsible for protecting the merchandise or assets of a company by studying customers and employees for any questionable behavior. They are also in charge of apprehending a criminal if a crime takes place and handing that person over to the appropriate authorities. Part of this job is consistently honing your investigative skills and training others to identify fraud or theft.
- Probation Officer – When a person is sentenced to probation instead of serving jail time, they are required to report to a probation officer on a regular basis. This officer monitors their progress and attempts to keep them on track and away from crime. They set up individual plans to help with their rehabilitation. Probation officers and trained to work with and counsel adults who are on probation for a crime committed.
- Police or Sheriff’s Patrol Officer – Patrol officers are uniformed men and women in law enforcement who are assigned to monitor and regulate a specific area. They could work in various communities, neighborhoods, schools, or traffic zones to ensure public safety, direct traffic, offer medical aid, or issue citations. These officers may patrol in a patrol car, on foot, on horseback, or other motorized vehicles.
How long does it take to earn a degree in criminal justice?
- Certificate Programs: These programs can usually be completed in less than a year and allow students to focus on a specific area of study while continuing to work. The flexibility of earning a certificate lets you develop professional skills without committing to a full program. Other advanced training and certification may be required for certain positions.
- Associate’s Degree: This is typically a two-year program designed to provide students with the basic foundation in criminal justice needed for entry-level positions in airport security, law enforcement, private security, and corrections. Coursework consists of crime theory, law, and psychology. This degree can be used as a basis to continue on to a more advanced degree. Some careers may require additional training and certification.
- Bachelor’s Degree: This four-year degree will cover criminology, criminal justice ethics, security, police administration, the juvenile justice system, law, and corrections to prepare you for a career that can range anywhere from policing, courts, corrections, or law. Your career prospects open up once you earn your bachelor’s degree, and the need for qualified criminal justice professionals continues to grow.
- Master’s Degree: By pursuing an advanced degree, you will be able to propel your career to the next level. This program focuses on giving students the necessary skills to obtain leadership roles in this field. Some concentrations include police administration, federal law enforcement, and criminal justice administration. These programs typically take two years to complete, but some schools also offer accelerated online programs.
- Doctoral Degree: Students who decide to advance to a doctorate program are usually interested in specializing in a specific field that will allow them to pursue higher-level positions in research, consulting, public policy, or higher education. A professional doctoral degree usually takes 3-4 years to complete, but this can vary depending on your educational background and previous coursework. Additional requirements such as exams, certifications, and dissertations will also vary by school and specialty. Other requirements for this degree could also include a master’s degree in a related field, a certain grade point average (GPA) for your master’s work, and completion of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) with a minimum score met.
Hopefully we were able to answer your questions about your degree programs in the criminal justice field. Our site provides additional information about accredited degree programs to help you find the right school for your career and educational needs.