Media Depictions of Working in Criminal Justice Versus Reality

The field of criminal justice has experienced a large amount of interest in the last decade, partly because of how the media depicts the profession. The influx of interested individuals pursuing a criminal justice degree is great for generating to interest, but distorts what to expect on the job or in the field. It’s easy to get the impression that jobs with a criminal justice degree will be the sort of “high octane” endeavors that will lead to a consistently entertaining career, but you’ll experience much more downtime than depicted in the ratings-driven media. Below we’ll discuss some of the differences between the media and what it’s actually like to work in criminal justice-related jobs.

Pace of the Job

Investigators and detectives in crime dramas are often shown at the scene of the crime and over the course of the program seem to whip from location to location, constantly making big breaks in the case. Even with red herrings, they’re able to chase down leads at an impressive speed. The reality of the job is much slower, even painstakingly so at times. Obviously in television and movies, there’s much less emphasis on the administrative work associated with the job, but it’s important to understand how much of the job actually involves that. While shows such as Law and Order and CSI show the protagonists seamlessly obtaining warrants, the process requires much more paperwork and time. Additionally, up to half of an investigators work will often involve paperwork.

Number of Cases

The media likes to show how a protagonist is tasked with solving a nearly impossible case by throwing everything they have into solving it. As in most criminal justice cases, individuals are working to solve a number of cases simultaneously. Most individuals aren’t fortunate enough to apply all efforts to merely one case at a time.

Misrepresentation of Vocation

While the television and movies do a great job at bringing more attention to careers in criminal justice, many people watch the responsibilities of positions such as forensic psychologists or profilers in television shows and inaccurately assume what the job entails. Some jobs will show an entire forensic team working on a case, but in many areas, these responsibilities will be consolidated into one position. Additionally, it’s common to see the same task distributed among all members of a team instead of each delegated particular assignments.

What the Media Gets Right

Law shows tend to depict the most accurate parts of their jobs, often highlighting the large amounts of litigation involved in the position. Getting an undergraduate degree in criminal justice can open up the door for law school and ultimately a job as a lawyer. If this is something that interests you, it might be worth checking out certain law programs and movies. Another aspect that is accurate is the sense of teamwork and camaraderie often evident in crime scene investigation teams, detective and investigative teams, and law enforcement. These individuals really do believe in advocating for safer communities and furthering the cause of justice for all.

It’s important to do significant research into various professions before deciding on a particular career route. There are many great jobs to get with a criminal justice degree and here are just a few that are covered less in the media:

  • Child Support Agency Worker
  • Discrimination Investigator
  • Witness Protection Worker
  • Non-Profit Organization Advocate
  • Contracts Administrator
  • Juvenile Court Counselor