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What is a Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal Justice Degree

A Criminal Justice Degree, as defined by Britannica Encyclopedia, is the study of the three major components of the criminal justice system, law enforcement, criminal courts and correctional institutions, and the ethics, responsibilities and duties of those employed within these fields.

Specific course objectives, in addition to general studies, of Criminal Justice Degree programs include pertinent theory and practical applications. Students focus on the history, structure and function of the criminal justice system, the doctrine of crime and criminal behavior, development of research abilities and interpretation, evidence assessment and moral principles. International criminal justice systems are also explored.

Who Would Benefit from a Criminal Justice Degree?

Broadly speaking, a Criminal Justice Degree is ideal for students wishing to enter law enforcement and probation or correction services. More specifically, there are a variety of subfields within these careers, which may be of interest to those with a desire to further their criminal justice education to specialize in a specific discipline.

A prospective student also requires the following attributes:

  • Excellent health
  • Physical and mental fitness
  • Upstanding moral character
  • Analytical thinking and reasoning
  • Superior judgment capabilities
  • Communication skills
  • Motivation
  • Self-discipline
  • Over the age of 21 years at time of graduation

Criminal justice degrees may be considered eligible as a minor degree for advanced studies in related careers, such as a Doctorate of Jurisprudence (Juris Doctor) and Master of Law (LL.M).

Criminal Justice Degree Levels

A Criminal Justice Certificate is geared towards students embarking upon entry-level criminal justice careers and jobs or experienced criminal justice professionals pursuing career advancement. The Certificate program may focus on criminology, procedural applications, communications, psychology and research.
Associate's Degree:
A Criminal Justice Associate Degree program concentrates on the criminal justice system, criminology, evidential procedures and legal methodology. An Associate Degree is appropriate for entry-level criminal justice job positions or as a foundation for further criminal justice studies.
Bachelor's Degree:
A Criminal Justice Bachelor Degree curriculum may include criminal law, philosophy of crime, law enforcement, courts, correction systems, investigations, forensics and security. Students may choose to major in a particular segment of criminal justice, for instance, computer information systems and security, crime and criminals, psychology and management and administration.
Master's Degree:
A Criminal Justice Master's Degree is an advanced program suitable for criminal justice professionals who wish to obtain promotion to mid and upper-level management, administration and leadership roles. Discipline choices may include corrections, law and global issues in criminal justice.
Doctorate (PhD):
A Doctorate Degree in Criminal Justice qualifies professionals to conduct overall management of criminal justice agencies. Possible specialties pertaining to criminal justice are public safety, business administration, psychology, criminology and forensic science.

Emerging Trends in Criminal Justice Careers

Increasing terrorism activities, both internationally and in the United States, have prompted educational institutes to offer criminal justice degrees focused on career opportunities within Homeland Security. Border Patrol, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Intelligence and Counter-terrorism, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service and Homeland Security Officer are among the many subcategories of a Homeland Security Degree. A Bachelor's Degree is requisite for employment.

Cyber security is a concern for a number of reasons. Criminals have become proficient at infiltrating social security systems, corporate information, and credit card and online bank accounts. Besides individual hackers, organized crime has become involved in cyber crimes in recent years. Students who possess an exceptional computer technology aptitude and an interest in the prevention, detection, and investigation of cyber crimes may consider a Bachelor's Degree in Cyber Security.

Computer forensics involves the analysis of digital media invaded by cyber criminals, compilation of evidence for criminal legal proceedings and preparation of technical reports. While a comparatively recent specialty, an Associate, Bachelor or Master's Degree in information systems security or computer forensics is recommended.

Criminal Justice Careers

There are a diverse number of criminal justice careers. Educational requirements vary with occupation, employer and, in some cases, regions. The following selection, which is not all inclusive, lists typical opportunities:

  • Probation Officer
  • Corrections Officer
  • Law Enforcement Officer
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Homeland Security
  • US Marshalls Service
  • Fish & Game Warden
  • Private Security
  • US Park Ranger or Police Officer
  • Crime Prevention Specialist
  • Loss Prevention Specialist
  • Forensics
  • Legal Attorney

Criminal Justice Career Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, states a favorable career outlook with a projected 10 percent increase to 2018 to accommodate population growth. Competition for State and Federal criminal justice positions is predicted, whereas local law enforcement agencies will attract fewer candidates.

Probation and correction services careers, in particular, are expected to have a 19 percent growth increase with excellent career outlook due to an increased prison population.

Median wages, as of May, 2008, for various criminal justice careers were as follows:

Occupation Median Wage
Law Enforcement Patrol Officers $51,410
Law Enforcement Supervisors $75,490
Detectives & Criminal Investigators $60,910
Police Chief $90,570
Transit & Railroad Police $46,670
Probation and Correction Services Officers $45,910
Fish & Game Wardens $48,930

Overtime pay, benefits and pension plans may have a significant beneficial impact on wages. Additionally, federal employees are paid in accordance with special formulaic salary rates.

Location, level of education and experience all are salary determinants.

Criminal Justice Degree Trivia

The first academic criminal justice program was launched at the University of California, Berkley, in 1916 by August Vollmer, a self-taught criminologist, whose principles remain valid today.