Criminal Justice Careers

The field of criminal justice is dedicated to upholding the law, safeguarding the public and improving lives through education and community outreach. Criminal justice professionals take on roles in law enforcement, legal, corrections and other related areas to help ensure these goals are met. Despite a dip in nationwide crime rates, the demand for qualified individuals throughout the criminal justice sector remains fairly stable.

Excellent communication skills, respect for the law, good judgment, and common sense are valuable skills and traits in criminal justice. Kindness, empathy, and tolerance are also crucial, especially for anyone who regularly interacts with victims and offenders. If you want to serve your community and make the world a better place, criminal justice might be an ideal field for you.

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The following map shows the best states for people interested in criminal justice careers. With high average salaries and a career score of nearly 93, the District of Columbia tops our list. Washington, D.C. has thousands of criminal justice jobs, due largely to the presence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, and other federal agencies. Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota are at the bottom of the list, though their average salaries reflect the relatively low cost of living in these areas.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Criminal Justice Salary Report: Annual Averages by State
Alabama $60,240
Alaska $65,610
Arizona $69,530
Arkansas $61,240
California $93,780
Colorado $75,640
Connecticut $80,570
Delaware $75,910
District of Columbia $81,620
Florida $82,920
Georgia $65,930
Hawaii $60,580
Idaho $77,700
Illinois $79,990
Indiana $63,500
Iowa $61,150
Kansas $63,910
Kentucky $59,500
Louisiana $60,360
Maine $67,750
Maryland $78,840
Massachusetts $72,640
Michigan $66,510
Minnesota $71,850
Mississippi $59,020
Missouri $62,780
Montana $69,390
Nebraska $59,880
Nevada $67,340
New Hampshire $64,030
New Jersey $70,750
New Mexico $65,540
New York $81,960
North Carolina $75,710
North Dakota $57,720
Ohio $63,930
Oklahoma $62,560
Oregon $70,850
Pennsylvania $67,140
Rhode Island $67,900
South Carolina $65,940
South Dakota $58,660
Tennessee $61,930
Texas $75,600
Utah $62,300
Vermont $70,730
Virginia $89,750
Washington $75,910
West Virginia $65,740
Wisconsin $63,140
Wyoming $61,270


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Each position in the field comes with different educational requirements. Some police departments only require a high school diploma and training at a police academy, while others require all officers to have a criminal justice degree. Federal agencies often require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Anyone who wants to be a prosecutor or defense attorney must obtain a bachelor’s and then a law degree. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hires special agents with degrees in business, computer sciences, engineering, chemistry, biology, accounting, international studies, information systems, and other relevant fields.

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DEGREE SPOTLIGHT: BACHELOR’S IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Although there are specific requirements for different types of criminal justice careers, many students enter the field by studying criminal justice in college. Criminal justice degrees may be classified as bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degrees, and either should suffice for any career requiring a CJ degree. Both programs generally feature similar requirements and courses, including a mix of general-education modules, electives, and core classes. The main difference is that a BS will usually offer more technical information, while a BA program allows students to take more general classes and electives. Both degrees prepare students for careers in criminal justice, but a BS may be more desirable for students interested in the technical dimensions of the field.

Criminal justice majors study criminal behavior, the causes of crime, the practices of police departments, juvenile justice, criminal law, and much more. As part of their program, they may also complete internships with courts, police departments, and legal agencies to apply classroom knowledge.

Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice

Alternate Degree Paths to a Job in Criminal Justice

There are several different majors you can choose from to prepare for positions in the field of criminal justice. The following chart highlights some of the relevant programs available at most major universities.

Addiction Counseling

Students learn how to help people with drug, alcohol, gambling, and other addictive behaviors. Topics covered include adult and child interventions, counseling skills, ethical issues in counseling, models of addiction, and family counseling. This type of program prepares students for criminal justice careers in jails, prisons, and outpatient treatment programs.

Criminology

Criminology is the study of criminal behavior, along with the causes and effects of crime. Students complete coursework in crime policy, criminal psychology, policing, law and society, corrections, and delinquency. Police officer, probation officer, correctional officer, and social worker are some of the jobs available to people who complete criminology degrees.

Forensic Science

Forensic scientists use their knowledge and skills to help criminal investigations and civil litigation. Each program includes coursework in criminology, science, and criminal justice. This program prepares graduates to collect and analyze evidence.

Information Security Systems

Studying information security helps students learn the skills they need to protect digital information against unauthorized access, modification, destruction, or recording. Degree requirements vary by school, but this type of program typically provides instruction in information management and computer technology. Police departments and government agencies hire information-security analysts to protect the integrity of their records.

Political Science

Political science courses analyze political activity and systems of government. Topics covered include public policy, democracy, moral problems, and the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. A degree in political science prepares graduates to enter law school, pursue a graduate degree in criminal justice, or obtain certain criminal justice positions available through federal agencies.

Psychology

Undergraduate psychology programs prepare students for jobs interacting with clients, conducting psychological research, counseling clients with addiction and mental-health issues, and communicating effectively with clients and colleagues. Psychology students can specialize in developmental psychology, organizational psychology, or abnormal psychology. A degree in the field is useful for graduates who want to counsel prison inmates, work as probation or parole officers, or work for the FBI.

Social Work

Social workers assist people with mental-health problems, addiction, poverty, and other social issues. Students enrolled in undergraduate social work programs study human behavior, psychology, social welfare, sociology, and cultural diversity. Graduates may enter the criminal justice field and work with inmates, victims, or offenders who need help transitioning back into their communities.

Distance Learning Opportunities

Some colleges offer online criminal justice degree programs. Enrolling in an online program has many benefits, especially for adult learners who want to change careers or continue their education without disrupting their current obligations. Online degrees may cost less than traditional degrees, as there are no commuting costs or school activity fees, and many schools charge in-state tuition for out-of-state students. Online programs also give students more flexibility than traditional programs. You can choose when you want to study and complete homework assignments, making online degrees ideal for parents or students who want to pursue a degree without quitting their job.

There are several online options for students interested in criminal justice. Some schools offer programs that are completely online, while others have programs that include both on-campus courses and online instruction.

Career Paths for Jobs in Criminal Justice

One of the best things about the criminal justice field is the variety of jobs available. We have compiled career information for some of them here; keep in mind that this is just a smattering of the most popular jobs available in the field.

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators
  • Mean Annual Salary: $58,020
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 9%
  • Number of People Employed: 8,400

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators help people resolve conflicts without going to court.

Job duties include preparing settlements, applying laws and regulations to legal conflicts, conducting arbitration proceedings, and helping the parties involved in a dispute reconcile. Some positions require a law degree or experience in the legal field.

Correctional Treatment Specialists
  • Mean Annual Salary: $49,360
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 4%
  • Number of People Employed: 91,700

Correctional treatment specialists, also called probation officers, work with people on probation or parole. Correctional treatment specialists try to prevent offenders from committing additional crimes.

Job duties include conducting drug tests, making home visits, meeting with offenders, writing reports, and developing probation and parole plans.

Forensic Science Technician
  • Mean Annual Salary: $56,320
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 27%
  • Number of People Employed: 14,400

Forensic science technicians collect evidence from crime scenes or analyze evidence in a lab. Technicians responsible for gathering evidence do so by taking photographs, preserving evidence in collection bags, recording their observations, and making sketches.

Lab technicians reconstruct crime scenes, examine evidence, perform biological and chemical tests on evidence, and use information to determine links between a suspect and a crime.

Law Enforcement Officers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $60,270
  • Degree/Certification Required: Associate
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 4%
  • Number of People Employed: 806,400

Law-enforcement officers are charged with enforcing local, state and federal laws. They do so by responding to emergency calls, conducting patrols, arresting people, collecting evidence, and testifying in court.

At the federal level, some officers specialize in handling certain crimes. As an example, the Drug Enforcement Administration has criminal justice jobs focused on investigating drug smuggling.

Information Security Analyst
  • Mean Annual Salary: $90,120
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 18%
  • Number of People Employed: 82,900

Information security analysts protect computer systems from unauthorized access. Law-enforcement agencies hire information security analysts to prevent hackers from accessing or editing criminal records, tampering with electronic evidence, and launching cyberattacks against agency networks.

Analysts install firewalls, monitor computer networks for data breaches, develop information security policies, and find security flaws through penetration testing.

Lawyers
  • Mean Annual Salary: $115,820
  • Degree/Certification Required: Professional
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 6%
  • Number of People Employed: 778,700

In the criminal justice system, lawyers either prosecute suspected criminals or defend those accused of a crime. Prosecutors charge people with crimes and argue on the government’s behalf during court proceedings. Defense attorneys help their clients by negotiating plea agreements or representing the accused in court.

Both types of lawyers conduct legal research, interpret laws, prepare legal documents, and communicate with everyone involved in each case.

Paralegals
  • Mean Annual Salary: $45,900
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 12%
  • Number of People Employed: 649,300

Social workers help people afflicted by addiction, psychological problems, child abuse, domestic violence, and poverty.

Job duties include identifying people who need help, helping clients overcome personal challenges, assessing the needs of clients, and referring clients to community programs. In the criminal justice system, social workers may work with victims or offenders.

Substance Abuse Counselors
  • Mean Annual Salary: $39,980
  • Degree/Certification Required: Bachelor’s
  • Projected Job Growth Outlook (2014-24): 22%
  • Number of People Employed: 94,900

Substance-abuse counselors help people who abuse alcohol or drugs by developing treatment plans, evaluating clients’ mental health, and helping clients develop better coping skills.

Many offenders also struggle with addiction, and substance-abuse counselors may work in jails, prisons, or halfway houses to ensure offenders address their drug and alcohol problems before their release.

Criminal Justice Career Job Sites

  • USAJobs: Applicants interested in jobs with federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, must use USAJobs to submit their application materials. Job seekers can narrow their searches by skill, location, or government agency.
  • JobCop: JobCop connects users to job listings in every state. Listings are available for police officers interested in jobs with city, county, and borough agencies.
  • LawJobs.com: LawJobs.com publishes listings for attorneys interested in working for large law firms or Fortune 1000 corporations. Companies such as Apple, Thomson Reuters, and DLA Piper advertise job openings on the website.
  • AAFS Job Postings: The American Academy of Forensic Sciences has job listings for fingerprint examiners, criminalists, laboratory technicians, pathologists, and other forensic-science professionals. Each listing summarizes the minimum qualifications of the job and provides contact information for the hiring agency.
  • ASC Employment Exchange: The American Society of Criminology maintains an employment exchange for applicants with experience in criminology.

Continuing Education in Criminal Justice

  • American Bar Association CLE: The American Bar Association offers continuing-education courses for attorneys. Some CLE offerings are optional, while others are designed to meet the minimum requirements for maintaining a license to practice law.
  • RTI International: RTI International offers continuing-education courses for students employed in forensic science. Courses are available in blood identification, forensic anthropology, toxicology, and more.
  • Police Officers Safety Association: POSA distributes training articles, video training, PowerPoint presentations, and video tips to police organizations and military agencies throughout the United States.
  • The Paralegal Association: NALA, the Paralegal Association, offers webinars, conferences, and self-study courses for paralegals interested in continuing education. Topics covered include alternative dispute resolution, civil litigation, contract law, legal discovery, and contract management.
  • Federal Law Enforcement Training Center: FLETC offers training opportunities to professionals in law enforcement.

Professional Organizations for Criminal Justice Careers

  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences: The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences promotes research and education in the field of criminal justice. The organization has nearly 3,000 members with experience in corrections, juvenile justice, law enforcement, victimology, and criminal-justice education.
  • American Society of Criminology: The American Society of Criminology exists to promote education and professional development among people employed in the field of criminology. Members are encouraged to conduct research, teach criminology courses and workshops, and share their knowledge at conferences and meetings.
  • American Correctional Association: The goals of the American Correctional Association are to promote diversity in the field of corrections, provide opportunities for professional development, improve the public perception of the correctional field, and promote corrections-related research. Membership is open to probation officers, prison guards, and other professionals in the corrections field.
  • International Police Association: The IPA aims to unite police officers all over the world by arranging recreational programs and travel opportunities for members. The organization also offers educational opportunities for active and retired police officers.
  • American Bar Association: The American Bar Association exists to help practicing attorneys advance their careers. Members have access to continuing-education programs, exclusive content, and discounts on required legal education.