Criminal Justice Careers: A Guide

There are many different criminal justice career fields you can choose to work in. Each field encompasses several jobs, some of the jobs may fit into more than one field. Here you will find our criminal justice career guide with a small amount of information about each career field. You can click the career field heading to find out more info about the specific jobs available in each field. This way, you can see what criminal justice career field or job your particular set of interests and skills fits into. Take some time to explore the possibilities!

Criminal Justice Careers:

General Criminal Justice Careers
The criminal justice field offers opportunities in a number of areas of interest and for every educational level from an associate’s to a doctoral degree. An online criminal justice degree is sufficient educational preparation for many entry-level jobs in criminal justice, and students may then wish to continue building educational credits to allow for career advancement. A criminal justice salary will be commensurate with the job description, education and experience and can vary widely as well.

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Some of the most popular career fields include crime scene forensics, criminal profiling and law enforcement at the federal level including working for the FBI. The popularity of these areas is in part due to media portrayals of them as exciting careers, but there are a number of other rewarding criminal justice jobs. For example, work in corrections and probation can include helping offenders develop job and life skills for successful reintegration into society while other types of forensics such as computer and accounting can help build criminal cases. From courtrooms to private security firms to think tanks and beyond, the variety of environments in which criminal justice majors may find themselves makes this an attractive career choice.

Academics and Research
Academics and research is generally not the first area that comes to mind when one thinks of criminal justice careers, but it can be a fascinating area for those who are interested in seeking advanced degrees. Another avenue into academics and research is combining professional experience with a master’s or doctorate, and this can be a particularly good mix for those who hope to teach criminal justice at the college level.

Both academics and research can involve areas such as psychology and forensics. Researchers may work for think tanks or work with government and legislators to set policy. Of all careers with a criminal justice degree requirement, these are generally the ones that require the most education, but they offer the opportunity to contribute to the body of knowledge about criminal behavior in a significant way.

Corrections is a branch of criminal justice that deals with working in prisons and jails. It is one of the criminal justice careers for which a student can prepare with an associate or bachelor’s degree. Like many careers with a criminal justice degree requirement, corrections can be pursued straight out of high school, but opportunities are limited. With a degree in the field, students may have the opportunity to do such things as manage or design programs for offenders in a jail or prison.

People working in corrections might also choose a specific population of interest to work with such as young offenders or women. This is not just a field about punitive systems; the opportunity to rehabilitate and turn people’s lives around may also be available to the professional who works in corrections.

Forensics, also called forensic science, is defined as applying science and technology to examine and gather the facts about activities that are related to criminal or civil law. Forensics professionals commonly pursue criminal justice careers in the legal system. Additionally, many schools that offer degrees in forensics pair it with criminal justice. Students commonly learn about examining crime scenes, different types of law, aspects of human behavior, and social policy. They also complete courses in chemistry, biology, mathematics, and the social sciences. Many degree programs involve research in forensics and criminal justices as well as internships and other practical learning experiences.

There are a variety of careers with a criminal justice degree with concentration in forensics. Graduates commonly work on crime scenes gathering evidence and building a case, in crime laboratories analyzing specimens, and providing information for trials.

Given that the field of criminal justice deals with courts, laws and incarceration, many jobs in the field are government jobs whether it’s at the local, state or federal level. Working for local or state law enforcement, in local jails or state prisons and in local or state courts are all typical settings for government criminal justice careers.

However, it’s at the federal level where many of the careers that with a criminal justice degree are within reach can be the most exciting and fulfilling. These include glamorous-sounding assignments with the FBI, the secret service and other government agencies that enforce various laws.

Another interesting option for a government career in criminal justice at all levels is working with legislatures shaping policy. People in the criminal justice field with advanced degrees may also have the opportunity to work in the federal Department of Justice in a variety of positions.

Homeland Security
Homeland security is an exciting career area in criminal justice, and there are opportunities available at all educational levels. People working in homeland security may work on the borders to keep them secure or they may be first responders in crisis situations. Criminal justice careers in anti-terrorism, disaster preparedness and intelligence are all part of homeland security.

Careers with a criminal justice degree graduate requirement whether a master’s or a doctorate could include specializing in certain areas of terrorist activity such as cyber-terrorism or biological terrorism. At these levels, professionals might be designing preparedness plans themselves or studying the group psychology of terrorist organizations. Graduate education programs in homeland security are relatively new but represent an exciting branch of study and careers in criminal justice.

Information technology as a specialization within criminal justice can be a particularly lucrative line of work. Computer forensics or the study of computer crime is one area and can encompass everything from hacking to computer sex crimes and more. Computer forensics can also be used to build evidence in crimes that are not computer based including murder. Tracking the activity of hate groups and terrorist organizations online is another area where IT and criminal justice careers intersect. In computer security, prevention rather than investigation of crime is the main goal.

The IT field is one of the careers that with a criminal justice degree is constantly changing as quickly new vulnerabilities are discovered and patched in systems worldwide. Many of the educational programs that lead to work in this branch of criminal justice are newer and this constant change and innovation make this a dynamic and exciting field.

Law Enforcement/Federal Agent
Law enforcement generally describes any organization where individuals act to promote citizens obeying laws. Federal law enforcement involves the federal government providing power to many different law enforcement organizations to uphold the law and public order in the nation as a whole. Individuals seeking to enter the law enforcement field commonly pursue degrees in criminal justice. In fact, law enforcement and criminal justice often go hand in hand in education. Programs typically provide students with a solid foundation of criminal justice theories and practices. Students usually learn about different types of law, criminal justice ethics, corrections, and issues in criminal justice. Graduates are prepared to pursue a variety of criminal justice careers.

There are many different careers with a criminal justice degree that focuses on law enforcement. Graduates commonly work in courts on a variety of cases, in law enforcement facilities making sure citizens abide by the law, and in legal offices.

Legal and Court
Many people looking for careers with a criminal justice degree choose to go into legal professions. Going to school for criminal justice degrees can help prepare individuals for court or legal jobs. Studying criminology and the structure of the legal system prepares them for further study at law schools. Many criminal justice programs allow students to focus on certain areas, such as criminal procedure, based on the types of jobs they wish to have after they graduate. Students usually need need to go on to further study in a graduate or law school and take licensing exams before they are qualified for court or legal positions, but they can often gain valuable experience for part-time jobs in courts or legal practices. Criminal justice degrees often help them to gain a range of criminology knowledge that they will be able to use in legal or court-related careers after they finish school.

Private Sector and Security
Criminal justice careers in private sector and security are booming. One advantage of private sector criminal justice jobs over public sector is that they can be far more lucrative. In many cases, these private sector jobs look a good deal like their public sector counterparts except the salary is more rewarding.

Probably the first thing that springs to mind when people think of private sector security work is the job of security guard, but this is only a single low-level example of a position in the field. Other positions include jobs in privately-run prisons as well as jobs in private law enforcement for associations or companies. People need security as well from celebrities who hire bodyguards and security detail to lesser-known but still wealthy individuals who are in need of private protection. Some of these jobs may still require additional certification and training.

Social Services
Obtaining a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice provides a wide range of career paths. There is the traditional law enforcement path including employment with local law enforcement agencies, state police departments, or the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). However, criminal justice careers can include work in social services.

Social service careers for someone with a criminal justice degree include working with people with mental illness in prisons, youth detention facilities, and state mental hospitals as well as in community based treatment programs including drug and alcohol treatment. You may also have the opportunity to work in parole or probation, or to provide case management for teens or adults who are exiting the corrections system or working with teens in treatment or foster care settings.


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