With crime rates ever fluctuating, there is never a decrease in the need for protection and defense. If you’re interested in assisting the system rid the world of crime, then obtaining a degree in criminal justice may be the right route for you. There are a variety of jobs regularly available in the criminal justice field, so once you have a degree, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a job in that field. Here, you will find information on how to get a criminal justice degree and what kind of work you can hope to get once you earn your associates, bachelors, or masters degree in criminal justice.
Criminal Justice is not Criminology
First off, it is very important to note that criminal justice is not the same thing as criminology. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, they are different. Criminal justice focuses on detecting crimes and those who commit them as well as what becomes of said criminals. It is more hands-on field work. On the other hand, criminology examines the causes of crimes as well as their costs and the consequences of the crimes for criminals and their victims.
The Elements of Criminal Justice
In order to decide if the criminal justice system is the field that best fits you, it is important to become more familiar with the three elements of the system. The criminal justice system consists of law enforcement, court systems, and corrections, respectively. Below, you will find an explanation of each element of the criminal justice system.
Law Enforcement in Criminal Justice
The first basic element of the criminal justice system is enforcement of the law. This particular branch is made up of everyone in local, state, and federal police departments who actively aims to prevent crime and protect fellow citizens. People involved in law enforcement often do everything from dealing with police reports to arresting and interrogating potential suspects and investigating crime scenes.
Court Systems in Criminal Justice
In the criminal justice system, the second element is made up of court systems. This is the element in which justice is sought against and determined for the criminal. Careers available in this part of the system include lawyers and judges. Most aim to protect the rights and safety of the people as a whole in addition to the victims of crimes committed. Suspects are subjected to a hearing to determine whether they are found guilty of crimes they’ve been accused of committing; and if the jury deems them guilty and they are convicted, they receive a sentence assigned by the judge based on the severity of the crimes.
Corrections in Criminal Justice
The third element of the criminal justice system is known as the corrections system. In this element, criminals who have been convicted are subjected to fulfilling their sentence. People with careers in the corrections system include probation officers, parole officers, and those with jobs in jails, prisons, and correctional facilities. Their jobs are to keep watch over and help convicted criminals as they carry out their sentences given by the judges at the closing of their trials.
How to Get a Criminal Justice Degree
If all this is still highly intriguing, then it’s time you set to work determining just how you’re going to get a degree in criminal justice. Now you’re most likely thinking, “Where can I go to get my criminal justice degree?” Well, that depends on the type of degree you’re looking for. Some schools offer associate degrees in criminal justice, but you’re better off aiming for at least a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree if you want to be successful in this field. Find a school that has a great criminal justice program and that will help you explore your career opportunities. Below are some colleges and universities to get you started in the search for your dream job.
If you’re interested in staying local, check out your state college or university’s criminal justice program. For example, Penn State has an excellent criminal justice program, where you can take courses to enhance your knowledge of the system and security and police administration as well as incarceration alternatives and more in order to prepare yourself for a future in service to your community and country.
If you don’t have easy access to transportation, try looking at online schools. Online institutes are becoming increasingly popular. Everest University Online is one online school that can help get you your bachelors degree in criminal justice right away. Everest also promises to help you find entry level criminal justice positions wherever you are, so relocating for work is not a problem.
At Castleton State College in Castleton, VT, you can earn both an associates degree and a bachelors degree in criminal justice. Another huge benefit to Castleton is that their teacher-student ratio is 1:14. This means more one-on-one time with your professors or a more personal atmosphere. Smaller classes can be incredibly beneficial for the type of education you receive.
Careers in the Criminal Justice System
Now that you’ve learned about the difference between criminal justice and criminology and the elements of criminal justice, it’s time to take a more detailed look at the types of jobs available to people with degrees in criminal justice. From entry level to higher ranking positions, perhaps you’ll discover a career that’s perfect for you here. Job types include but are not limited to those presented here.
Entry Level Career Opportunities in Criminal Justice
Look closely at this section for descriptions of criminal justice jobs for beginners to see if one is right for you. As with most jobs, the higher the education you receive, the more intense and better paying the position will be.
If you feel you are comfortable taking a position of authority in order to protect others against crime and preserve their safety, then becoming a police officer may be your ideal situation. With a bachelors degree in criminal justice, you could potentially get a job as a police officer at your local barracks. Police officers are responsible for properly enforcing the laws of whatever jurisdiction they are assigned. They patrol their area regularly in order to make sure people aren’t performing any illegal and harmful acts toward one another. Officers are permitted to arrest anyone suspected of criminal actions, and in many cases they are expected to testify in court. Other duties include operating law enforcement vehicles in emergency situations or upon request.
According to indeed.com, the average police salary as of April 2014 is approximately $25,000 a year. It may not seem like much for someone who risks his or her life for strangers on a daily basis, but as your term of service increases, so does your salary in many cases. Experience pays. Of course, your salary depends on where the department is located and what its jurisdiction is, as well.
Private investigators can work for a variety of people. They often work for lawyers to assist them in finding hidden evidence to prove lawyers’ cases in court. Private investigators also sometimes take on the task of discovering immoral or illegal behaviors of spouses and now often former spouses in order for the person who hired the private investigator to gain full custody of his or her child(ren) in a divorce case. You can become a private investigator with a bachelors degree in criminal justice, but you also need to be certified as well.
Private investigators can make between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Determining the exact salary is tricky, as private investigators are not always steadily employed by the same person or group.
One easily obtained entry level position in the field of criminal justice is a paralegal secretary. Paralegal secretaries are responsible for assisting lawyers with research and statistics for their trials and they also often put together contracts for lawyers to present to their clients. The responsibilities of a paralegal secretary are much more in-depth and field-related than a typical clerical secretary who performs basic office duties; therefore, the salary of a paralegal secretary is higher than that of an average clerical secretary.
An expected yearly income for a paralegal secretary can average around $45,000 to $50,000 depending on the intensity of the workload.
Higher Level Career Opportunities in Criminal Justice
If you go farther than obtaining a bachelors degree and aim for a masters degree in criminal justice, you’re sure to expand your occupation options as well as your annual salary. Below are just a handful of more complex, intense careers in the criminal justice field.
High School Criminal Justice Teacher
Getting your masters in criminal justice can open up the opportunity for you to teach the subject to high school students. Naturally, being a high school teacher of any subject comes with its basic responsibilities. Lesson plans, quizzes, exams, etc. This particular subject covers information to provide students with a basic understanding of the criminal justice system, including its history, the elements, and the overall functioning of the system. Criminal justice and law enforcement classes are not available in all school districts, so those districts who do provide the instruction pay well.
The average teaching salary for a criminal justice high school teacher can be around $55,000 a year. However, if you obtain your doctorate and go on to teach university level courses, you can make well over $80,000 each year.
If you’re tough and you think you’ve got what it takes to keep watch over a convicted criminal who was not sent to jail but requires supervision, you might be interested in a career as a probation officer. Probation officers often help criminals get back on their feet and mold them into doing right in their communities. Probation officers can help criminals who want to do right find jobs to better themselves and stay out of trouble. It can get messy, because some may resist, but if you feel confident that you can have a positive impact on a troubled individual, this may be your path.
For higher paying positions, of course experience is necessary; but sometimes you have to start at the bottom. A beginner can earn around $45,000 annually, but someone with many years of experience is capable of earning over $82,000 a year.
If you want to help innocent people receive the justice they deserve or you’re interested in defending potentially innocent suspects in front of a room full of people, this is the job for you. A lawyer’s job is very intense. It requires very high communication skills, impressive research abilities, and strength and confidence in yourself and your clients. If you’re looking to defend someone in court, you must display an aura of courage and determination. Your clients should feel they can trust you with private and sensitive information. You should be considerate of your clients’ needs while assuring them that you will help them win their cases.
If you’re confident and successful, you can make over $160,000 a year in client cases.
Companies That Hire Individuals with Criminal Justice Backgrounds
If you already have a degree, then your next step is to go on the hunt for a job that best suits your abilities and needs. Below is a list of some places and employers who hire people with knowledge and/or experience in the field of criminal justice.
New York City – work in the Corrections Department of one of the most popular cities on the East Coast
Governmentjobs.com – find a job working for the government anywhere in the United States
Commonwealth of Virginia – look to make a career with your criminal justice degree in the state of Virginia
Northside Mental Health Care – established in 1976, located in Hillside County, Florida; helps troubled individuals deal with substance abuse, being victims of violent crimes, and even individuals who have witnessed violent crimes.
Criminal justice is a growing field with many opportunities knocking at the doors of those with knowledge and experience in the field. Get out there and get involved in a university’s criminal justice program to start improving America’s internal safety by touching one life at a time.