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What Kinds of Criminal Justice Career Paths Are There?


Admit it, you’re a CSI fan, and watching that show has sparked your interest in a career in criminal justice. It’s okay – a lot of people see the intrigue of the criminal justice field in entertainment and want to know more about the real career opportunities that are out there. In fact, since the show started, there has been a huge increase in the number of applicants to Criminal Justice programs. It’s called the "CSI effect."

The reality of the criminal justice field can be quite different than what you see on TV. That’s why it’s very important to get all the information you can before making a decision for your education – and your career. In fact, today, most career paths in Criminal Justice require at least an Associate degree. With the information and resources on this site, you can choose a path in criminal justice that matches your interests and abilities.

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Careers in Criminal Justice

There are a variety of criminal justice careers that current graduates can choose from. Here is a list some of the careers that are popular in the criminal justice sector. If you are ready to pursue a career in the field of criminal justice, contact our featured schools to learn how you can get started!

Detectives and Private Investigators

In these roles, you can analyze and find facts about information pertaining to personal, financial, and legal matters. They can offer many services that range from protecting celebrities, verifying people’s backgrounds, investigating computer crimes, and tracing missing persons. Both private detectives and investigators have a minimal of college experience. However, many jobs that private detectives and investigators qualify for do not have actual educational requirements, and most of them learn on the job regardless. Previous work experience in investigative work is very helpful, and private detectives and investigators need a license to practice in most states. Depending on the case, private detectives and investigators can work in a variety of environments. Some can spend their time performing surveillance or conducting interviews, while others spend their time in offices making phone calls and conducting computer searches.

Police Officers

Police officers can also become criminal investigators and detectives, who sometimes are called special agents or agents, and they collect evidence and gather facts of possible crimes. Depending on the type of organization and size, law enforcement officers’ duties vary. The education requirements in order to become a police officer range from a typical high school diploma to a college degree. Additionally, before getting on-the-job training police officers must graduate from their agency’s training academy. Candidates must be at least 21 years old, be U.S. citizens, and meet a variety of personal and physical qualifications. Police officers work in an environment that can be dangerous, physically demanding, and stressful. Police officers have one the highest fatalities and on-the-job injuries.

Paralegals

According to U.S. News, paralegals help attorneys in every part of the legal profession- from summarizing legal precedent to drafting motions. Paralegals, like lawyers, can enter a number of types of law, such as family, criminal, immigration, and corporate. Their legal involvement in cases depends on their employer. Some have restricted and narrow roles and others have a high degree of autonomy and responsibility. The best paralegals work behind the scenes and are team players.

There are no stringent educational requirements for becoming a paralegal. Some have an associate’s degree in paralegal studies, while others have a bachelor’s degree and obtain a certification in paralegal studies after they graduate. Certification programs provide an intense introduction to the paralegal field, and they typically only last for a few months. Before enrolling in any type of paralegal program, a candidate should know the placement rate of people who have recently graduated. Additionally, completing an internship program can lead to hiring and more on-the-job training.

Probation Officers

A probation officer's main job is to work with offenders that have been sentenced on probation and will not go to prison for their crimes. Probation officers write reports on various criminals to help the judge or courts decide sentencing and what level of probation the criminal is going to receive. In order to become a probation officer, candidates must receive a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college. Getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, corrections, social work or psychology is preferred. In order to receive federal and higher positions, candidates might be required to have a master’s degree in counseling, criminal justice, social work or a related field.

The majority of departments require candidates to not have a felony on record, be at least 21 years of age, and to have strong interview and writing skills. Having computer skills have also become necessary since there have been major technological advances to the field. Some states can also require probation officers to have at least two years of experience in correctional treatment or corrections parole.

Correctional Officers

The job of a correctional officer is to oversee individuals who have been arrested for a crime and are currently awaiting trial or who have been sentenced to serve time in a reformatory, prison, or jail. To become a correctional officer, candidates must go through a training academy and then they have to go through on-the-job training via a facility. While qualifications vary from agency to agency, all of them at least require a high school diploma or equivalent. Some can require additional work experience or college education. The work environment for a correctional officer can be hazardous and stressful. While working with inmates, correctional officers can be injured and they have one of the highest rates of overall injuries.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for criminal justice graduates is increasing every year. Various available positions come from a broad spectrum and employees are required to have a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. From paralegals and lawyers who are working in a law office to police officers who are protecting people and property, the available roles in the criminal justice field are unlimited. Criminal justice careers are also very resilient during a suffering economy and many jobs benefit from tough economic conditions.

To technology and travel, healthcare to hospitality, within the both private and public sectors of almost every industry, criminal justice professionals are in very high demand. As technology continues to advance and continue to change many aspects of everyday life, there is going to be an increase for criminals to find opportunities to steal from unsuspecting victims, thus creating more opportunities for the criminal justice field. The field is not limited to the stereotypical private detective sitting in his car or the stereotypical police officer. Currently the jobs available in the criminal justice sector range from forensic scientist, insurance investigator, detective, legal consultant, criminal pathologist, and many careers surrounding the identity protection sector such as fraud investigator.

Various criminal justice careers offer their employees health insurance and vacation time, but the amount is dependent on the employer. Additionally, most criminal justice careers require a variety of hours and graduates may expect to make on average $43,050 annually according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013).

Career Trends

The biggest trend that is happening in the criminal justice sector is the rise in technology. There is currently a significant need for various criminal justice professionals to understand, incorporate and embrace technology. Technology is not going to disappear from society any time soon, and it is going to play a significant role in society. In terms of the criminal justice system, technology will influence those who are entering the system on how they are caught, processed, and identified.

In addition, technology will have a huge impact on cybercrime and cybersecurity. To combat increasing cybercrime, there is going to be a major increase in people getting cybersecurity degrees. Cybersecurity degrees offer specific courses on computer network security and it prepares students for careers as computer analysts, forensic network analysts, and many other network security jobs. While cybersecurity degrees are a fairly recent development, they do provide a specific skill set related to the maintenance of security protocols on various computer networks and investigation of intrusions. Job growth is expected to exceed the national mean, and salaries are going to be higher than average.

While the benefits of technology are certainly obvious; however, technological changes have created new ways for criminal behavior and there is going to be a continued need to address various computer-based crimes.

The US Department of Labor (Bureau of Labor Statistics) can help you find out the salary and employment outlook for such criminal justice careers as: Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers, Detectives and Criminal Investigators, Private Detectives and Investigators, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, and Forensic Science Technicians.

Use the links on the left sidebar to learn more about criminal justice careers that interest you. Or start your search for the right program by comparing the schools highlighted below.


Featured Criminal Justice Schools