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What are the highest paying jobs in criminal justice?

The field of criminal justice is quite broad and offers a wide variety of potential job opportunities. Criminology includes the more common occupations – like police officers or probation officers and the not-so-common occupations of a fish and game warden.

Studying for a criminal justice degree will require the completion of coursework in these topics, among others –

  • Courses explore the theories regarding crime prevention
  • The history of law
  • The elements of restorative justice.

Some criminal justice programs may require in-person components like an internship. Let’s check out the 25 highest-paying jobs for those with a criminal justice degree.

1. Paralegals

A paralegal (aka legal assistant) is trained to support attorneys in a variety of tasks and offers a great career in criminal justice. In 2020, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $ 52,920, which translates to $25.44 per hour. The anticipated job growth for paralegals through2029 is 10%, which is 2.5 times the national average of all occupations.

Paralegals work in various sectors and organizations but are primarily employed by government agencies, law firms, and the legal departments within corporate entities. Most paralegal professionals work full-time jobs, with some required to work additional hours to meet deadlines, as needed. Paralegals usually earn a certificate in paralegal studies or an associate’s or bachelor’s criminal justice degreeParalegals with formal training and robust database and computer skills will likely have the best paralegal job prospects.  Paralegals who possess strong computer & database management skills should have the best job opportunities.

2. Parole Officer

Parole and Probation Officers work to manage the rehabilitation of those who have violated the law and are on parole. In 2020, the median annual salary for Parole and Probation Officers was $ 55,690, which translates to $25.77 per hour. The anticipated job growth for Parole and Probation Officers through 2029 is 4%, which is equal to the national average for all occupations. Job opportunities for this career in criminal justice will also occur due to those parole or probation officers retiring from the system.

Parole officers work with those individuals who have been convicted of a crime but are out on parole. Parole officers may work in the field or within correction agencies or institutions, which can lead to stressful work environments. Most people working as parole officers will have a bachelor’s degree (often a criminal justice degree) but also be asked to pass a written and oral exam and a battery of psychological tests.

3. Youth Correctional Counselor

A youth correction counselor (aka a correctional treatment specialist) provides counseling services to juvenile offenders for young adults who have been convicted of a crime that requires them to complete some form of organized consequence. For example, a youth correction counselor may act as a liaison between a client and the court system, offering programs for anger management and addiction. In 2020, the median annual salary for youth correctional counselors was $ 55,690, which translates to $25.77 per hour. The anticipated job growth for youth correctional counselors through 2029 is 4%, which equals the national average for all occupations. Job opportunities for this career in criminal justice are typically available in prisons, government agencies, detention centers, and institutions.

Most people working as a youth correctional counselor will hold a bachelor’s degree (often within a related criminal justice degree) unless they wish to work in management or administration, which requires a more advanced degree.

4. Fire Investigators

Fire investigators/inspectors is a subcategory of fire inspection. They have highly specialized training as it relates to the crime of arson. They gather technical information to analyze after an arson-related fire. In 2020, the median annual salary for fire investigators was $ 64,610, which translates to $29.87 per hour. More specifically, the ATF – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosive notes that the base salary range for a fire investigator is $30,400 to $59,900. The anticipated job growth for fire investigators and inspectors through 2029 is 8%, which is twice the national average of all occupations.

Fire investigators work in offices and very often in the field.  They typically work during traditional business hours but may work at any time when responding to emergency events. Many firefighters have previously worked as professional firefighters. The top-paying states for fire investigators in 2020 were California, Idaho, and Oregon.

5. Fish and Game Warden

Fish & game wardens, also known as wildlife officers, are technically law enforcement specialists administering and enforcing laws about hunting, fishing, & boating laws. A fish and game warden is also responsible for managing wildlife programs in forests, mountains, lakes, coastal regions, and other natural settings. In May 2020, the median wage for fish & game wardens was $ 58,040 per year, which translates to $27.90 per hour. However, the top of the scale for this career in criminal justice offers a median salary of nearly $82,000 per year.

Fish & game warden job requirements vary by state and agency. Some states will only require a high school diploma, whereas others require a bachelor’s level criminal justice degree or a related topicWardens will typically be required to meet academy training requirements, which may include HAZMAT handling, field lab actions, or emergency responses.

6. Transit and Railroad Police

Transit & railroad police are tasked with the responsibility of protecting transit/railroad property, its passengers, and staff members. They patrol transit stations & railroad yards. New York has the highest level of transit and railroad police, with more than 1,600 employed in May 2020.  In 2020, the median annual salary for transit and railroad police was $ 72,580, which translates to $34.89 per hour. However, the top of the scale for this career in criminal justice offers a median salary of nearly $97,000 per year.

Most people working as transit or railroad police will hold a baccalaureate criminal justice degree. Coursework for a degree that will lead to a career in criminal justice as a transit or railroad police officer includes criminal justice ethics, law enforcement systems, and an introduction to criminal justice, to name a few.

7. Crime Lab/Forensic Science Analyst

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Crime lab or forensic science analysts or technicians collect and analyze evidence from a crime scene to aid and implement criminal investigations. In 2020, the median annual salary for Crime lab or forensic science analysts or technicians was $ 60,590, which translates to $29.13 per hour. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a forensic technician offers a median salary that exceeds $100,000 per year.

Crime lab or forensic science analysts typically work traditional business hours, although extended hours may be required for unusual circumstances. Most forensic science analysts will need to earn a baccalaureate criminal justice degree to qualify for the job. In addition, forensic or crime lab analysts will generally be required to complete on-the-job training in the field and in a laboratory.

8. Detectives & Criminal Investigators

Detective and criminal investigators are responsible for conducting investigations (gathering facts or collecting evidence) to prevent or solve crimes at the local, state, and federal levels.  In 2020, the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $ 86,940, which translates to $41.80 per hour. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a forensic technician offers a median salary that exceeds $145,000 per year.

The states with the top-paying detective and criminal investigator jobs are Alaska, followed by Maryland, Hawaii, California, and New Jersey. The education requirements for a detective or a criminal investigator depend on the agency, with some positions requiring a criminal justice degree. Most criminal investigators and detectives complete certification and credentials (such as the Post Officers Standards & Training POST) throughout their careers.

9. Police Officers

A police officer is employed by a law enforcement agency. Police officers are tasked with the responsibility of protecting lives and property. In 2021, the median annual salary for police officers was $ 58,500. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a police officer offers a median salary that exceeds $68,000 per year.

Police officers will find their work to be stressful, physically demanding, and at times, dangerous. Shift work is also possible as police officers work to cover around the clock shifts. Candidates for police officer jobs must meet strenuous physical as well as personal qualifications and often will graduate from an agency training academy and still be required to complete on-the-job training.

10. Deputy Sheriff

Deputy sheriffs are responsible for a variety of tasks, which will depend on the location of the job, certifications, and education. Overall, they seek to maintain lawful order and protect life and property by enforcing laws. In 2021, the median annual salary for a deputy sheriff was $ 111,070. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a deputy sheriff offers a median salary that exceeds $123,000 per year.

The education requirement for a deputy sheriff is typically a bachelor’s criminal justice degree. A deputy sheriff will typically have managerial functions that may include the development of police procedures, budgets, plus labor relations, which is why most positions require a significant amount of professional work experience. Often, a deputy sheriff will report to an elected official.

11. Customs/Compliance Officials

A compliance or customs officer/official is responsible for evaluating and investigating the eligibility and compliance of the laws that govern licensing and permitting in the United States. In addition, customs or compliance officials perform other enforcement inspections and relevant analyses not classified elsewhere. In 2021, the median annual salary for a compliance or customs officer/official was $ 86,300. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a compliance or customs official offers a median salary that exceeds $127,000 per year.

The top paying states for customs or compliance officials in 2020 were the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California. The majority of compliance jobs require a minimum of a baccalaureate criminal justice degree, although some upper-level positions may require a more advanced degree or significant professional experience.

12. State Trooper

State troopers work to maintain order by protecting property and life through the enforcement of local, state, federal, or tribal laws. Depending on the specific position, a state trooper may have patrol duties, issues traffic violations, arrest suspects, serve legal processes and investigate accidents, to name a few. In 2020, the median annual salary for a state trooper was $ 65,540, which translates to an hourly wage of $31.51. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a compliance or customs official who offers a median salary that exceeds $109,000 per year.

The top paying states for state trooper jobs in 2020 are California, New Jersey, Alaska, Washington, and Hawaii. With nearly 75,000 police and sheriff’s patrol officers/troopers, California has the highest employment level for state troopers in the country.

13. United States Park Police

United States Park Police officers work for one of the oldest of U.S. federal government law enforcement agencies. The Park Police are tasked with the professional responsibility of protecting national parks and other lands that serve more than 300 million visitors each year. Park police work within three primary areas – Services, Field Operations, or Homeland Security. They are responsible for the provision of law enforcement with any jurisdiction under the National Park Service. In 2020, the median salary for a member of the United States Park Police was $52,541 a year.

Approximately 20,000 park police employees work across the country, with the majority working in the Park Police’s administrative offices located in Washington DC, New York, and San Francisco. The National Park Service is organized under the Department of Interior.

14. Air Marshall

A sky marshal or air marshal is a fundamental component of the processes designed to help maintain passenger safety through security enforcement on commercial airline flights. An air Marshall typically works undercover for federal security or aviation agencies and is trained to intervene in dangerous situations that may occur during the flight. In 2020, the median annual salary for a compliance or customs officer/official was $ 68,467. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as an Air Marshall offers a median salary that exceeds $124,000 per year.

Because of the nature of an Air Marshall’s work, most have achieved a high level of civilian law enforcement or military security duty. The federal government looks to hire those with exceptional aptitude, practical experience, and training, often given preference to those applicants with a military background.

15. Secret Service Agents

Founded in 1865 to combat currency counterfeiting during the Civil War, the Secret Service is responsible for investigating money laundering, counterfeiting, and financial fraud. In addition, Secret Service Agents protect government figures – primarily the president and vice president (and their families), buildings, and systems. In 2020, the median annual salary for detectives and police/secret service agents, and legal assistants was $ 67,290, which translates to $32.35 per hour.

Secret Service salaries fall in line, with additional sign-on bonuses for special skills like foreign language proficiency. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a Secret Service agent offers a median salary that exceeds $140,000 per year. As of 2019, there were approximately 3,250 secret service agents working in the United States.

16. Forensic Nurse

A forensic nurse practitioner is an APRN, which is an acronym for an advanced practice nurse – a registered nurse with advanced education in the realm of nursing forensics. A nurse who works as a forensic APN may find employment in a variety of settings, but often with sexual assault victims in emergency rooms, child and adult abuse protective programs, or death investigations. In 2020, the median annual salary for a forensic APRN nurse was $ 111,680, which translates to $53.69 per hour. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a compliance or customs official offers a median salary that exceeds $156,000 per year.

Most people working as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (i.e., Forensic Nurse) will generally need to complete at least graduate-level degrees, plus graduate certificates in forensic nursing or a criminal justice degree. Job growth for those seeking a career in criminal justice through 2029 is an impressive 45%, more than ten times the national average.

17. DEA Agent

Drug Enforcement Agents are specialized law enforcement officers who work for the United States government. They fight drug trafficking & distribution throughout the country. DEA agents are offered highly competitive salaries, including excellent job security, benefits, and the opportunity to advance professionally.  In 2020, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $67,290, which translates to $32.35 per hour.

Most people working as DEA agents will need to hold a minimum of a baccalaureate criminal justice degree to be eligibleCandidates complete four-month training at Quantico, Virginia. DEA agents then receive assignments which often include a change in location. Job growth for those seeking a career in criminal justice through 2029 is 5%, slightly faster than the national average. This is a great career path as it offers exciting and diverse opportunities, with a stimulating job with excellent job security.

18. Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists use psychological principles while working with legal professionals and specialists – analyzing the psychological aspects of each case. They generally specialize in specific areas like civil, criminal, or family cases. They are often called upon to testify in court as an expert witness. In 2020, the median annual salary for psychologists was $ 82,180, which translates to $39.51 per hour. The anticipated job growth for psychologists through 2029 is 3%, which is approximately the national average of all occupations. Essentially, a forensic psychologist would likely have a higher salary as they have more specialized training, with most psychologists needing a master’s degree to meet licensing requirements. The states across the nation that have the highest employment levels for psychologists were Florida, Illinois, Texas, Maryland, and Massachusetts. California and Alaska were the best paying states for Psychologists in 2020.

19. Crime Scene/Forensic Science Investigator

Crime scene or forensic science investigators or technicians are tasked with the responsibility of collecting and analyzing crime scene evidence. In 2020, the median salary for a crime scene or forensic science investigator or technician was $ 60,590, which translates to $29.13/hour. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a crime scene technician or forensic investigator offers a median salary that exceeds $100,000 per year.

Forensic science technicians generally are required to hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a science, such as chemistry or biology, a criminal justice degree, or a degree in forensic science. In addition, forensic or crime lab analysts are generally required to complete on-the-job training in the field and in a laboratory. The states with the top paying forensic science jobs include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Alaska.

20. Private Investigators

Private investigators search for legal, financial, and personal information, which may include a lot of computer work as well fieldwork. In 2020, the median annual salary for private investigators was $ 53,320, which translates to $25.64 per hour. However, the top of the scale for a career in criminal justice as a private investigator offers a median salary that exceeds $96,000 per year. The anticipated job growth of personal investigators through 2029 is 8%, which is about twice the national average.

Most private investigators need several years of work experience plus a high school diploma or GED. Many states require private investigators to hold a license to work. Private investigators often work irregular hours due to the nature of the work. The top five states for private investigators – with the highest employment levels, are California, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.

21. Detective

A detective is a law enforcement agency tasked with the responsibility of protecting property and lives.  Detectives and criminal investigators identify/collect evidence as well as data to determine if a crime occurred. In 2020, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $67,290, which translates to $32.35 per hour. The projected job growth of detectives and other police personnel through 2029 is 5%, which is slightly higher than the U.S. national average.

The education for a detective typically requires a high school diploma to a criminal justice degree. Most police & detectives first graduate from the agency’s training academy before completing relevant training during their first year of work. Candidates interested in becoming a detective must be at least 21 years old, be U.S. citizens, and pass rigorous physical & personal qualifications. The five states that offer the highest employment levels for detectives are Texas, California, New York, Florida, and Arizona.

22. CIA Officer

A CIA Officer works for the Central Intelligence Agency in a multitude of capacities, working cases, managing programs, and implementing clandestine operations. Their primary mission is to ensure the safety of the nation through national security initiatives.  In 2020, the median starting salary for a CIA Officers was $ 62,000 through $94,000, with potentially higher salaries for experience and a foreign language capability. Applicants must have earned a baccalaureate or master’s level criminal justice degree or a degree from a criminal-justice-related field., with a Grade Point Average of 3.0 or higher.

Many CIA officers are given the opportunity to travel internationally and typically require a five-year contract agreement from a potential agent. CIA Officers receive competitive salaries, tremendous government benefits, and flexible scheduling. They work among a diverse group of colleagues where voices are heard and respected.

23. CIA Analyst

CIA analysts are responsible for understanding and interpreting the data and information collected by field agents. CIA analysts are at the forefront of national security, identifying ties between seemingly unrelated pieces of information to maintain U.S. safety domestically and abroad. In 2020, the median annual salary for a CIA Analyst was $ 71,662, which translates to $25.62 per hour. The job outlook and projected growth for CIA analysts will be aided as trends indicate a need to fight terrorism.

The requirements for a job as a CIA analyst vary based on specialization. Generally, a bachelor’s criminal justice degree or a degree in political studies, international relations is typically required. A master’s degree or Ph.D. is typically mandatory for upper-level managerial positions. CIA Analysts must be a U.S. citizen. They work with highly sensitive information, which requires an extensive background check for all applicants.

24. FBI Agents

An FBI agent is someone who works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a government agency that investigates federally related crimes. An FBI Agent collects evidence, performs interviews, and analyzes information with other personnel throughout the FBI. In 2021, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $ 65,687, which translates to $26.06 per hour. The job outlook and projected growth for Federal Bureau of Investigation Agents are projected to be generated for trends requiring the combat of terrorism.

Most FBI Agents hold at least a bachelor’s criminal justice degree or a degree in a related fieldFBI agents usually work in a field office throughout the United States, but they may also work at large regional facilities, like the FBI building in the nation’s capital.  Upon completion of training, an FBI agent’s level of salary will be based on the employee’s field assignment. After a two-year period of probation, FBI agents transition to the general schedule pay scale.

25. Lawyer

Lawyers advise and represent businesses, agencies, and individuals regarding legal disputes and other issues.

In 2020, the median annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants was $ 126,930, which translates to $61.03 per hour. The job outlook and projected growth for lawyers or attorneys are projected to be approximately 4%, about the same job growth rate as the national average of all occupations.

The majority of lawyers or attorneys work for corporate legal offices or private law firms. Some lawyers work for the state, local, or federal agencies, often for more than 40 hours per week. Lawyers must hold a Juris Doctor degree and also pass a state bar exam to be licensed to practice. The top paying states for lawyers include Washington DC (with an annual mean salary of $197,100), California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth it?

Investing in one’s education plays an essential role in reaching for one’s long-term career objectives. If you have a serious interest and wish to work in one of the many criminal justice occupations, be clear that the job you want will generate enough money to make it worthwhile to pay for the cost of the required degree or education.

The reality is that a criminal justice degree is worth the effort and time because many criminal justice positions require formal education to qualify. Most importantly, a criminal justice degree is worth the education expense if you select the most appropriate degree to meet your career objectives. In addition, many who choose a career in criminal justice find that joining a professional organization allows for networking opportunities that may help propel one’s criminal justice career to the next level.

Can I Complete a Criminal Justice Degree Online?

Earning an online criminal justice degree can open many doors for graduates interested in a career in law enforcement or government. While not every local police station requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree, most individuals who wish to pursue higher-earning jobs will need at least a baccalaureate degree in addition to academy training.

In fact, federal agencies often offer higher salaries for applicants who have earned a bachelor’s criminal justice degree or another degree from a related field.

A criminal justice degree integrates and synthesizes diverse concepts from these fields –

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Law
  • Public Administration
  • Mathematics, to name a few.

Criminal justice students study and explore the nature of deviance & the causes of crime. They also learn how to use resources through the U.S. criminal justice system in administering justice and rehabilitation. Individuals who hold a criminal justice degree can pursue jobs as intelligence specialists, police officers, corrections counselors, victims’ advocates or as a lawyer, to name a few.

Related rankings:
Top 10 Campus Master’s in Criminal Justice Programs
Top 10 Campus Homeland Security Degree Programs
Top 10 Online Homeland Security Degree Programs

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Criminaljusticedegreehub.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.