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California Criminal Justice Programs

California’s recent criminal justice reforms—which have transformed the approach to law and order in a state previously known for its “three strikes” sentencing—make now an exciting time to study and practice criminal justice. One particular focus is on understanding how to work with suspects and criminals who are mentally ill. Regardless of what program of study you undertake in the criminal justice field, you’ll almost certainly encounter that as a focus topic.

Criminal Justice Careers in California

Opportunities in the field of criminal justice are wide-ranging and offer something for a variety of skill sets and interests. The criminal justice system is composed of three branches: law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. Within these branches there are a variety of different pathways. Here we’ll provide an overview of some career paths within each branch.

Law Enforcement

Those in law enforcement are the on-the-ground officials working to prevent and investigate crimes and to enforce laws.

CareerCalifornia Career Outlook (2016 – 26)Annual Median Salary in California
Police Officers+5%$104,790
Private Detectives and Investigators+14%$65,420

All data from https://www.onetonline.org/

The Courts

The courts represent the legal side of the criminal justice system. While a number of jobs in the field require a law degree, some do not.

CareerCalifornia Career Outlook (2016 – 26)Annual Median Salary in California
Paralegals and Legal Assistants+18%$57,290

All data from https://www.onetonline.org/


Those in corrections work in or with the prison system. Some work directly with inmates in a variety of capacities. Others work with those who are recently released and help to prevent recidivism.

CareerCalifornia Career Outlook (2016 – 26)Annual Median Salary in California
Correctional Officers and Jailers­–9%$77,520
Probation Officers+4%$89,210

All data from https://www.onetonline.org/

Criminal Justice Educational Resources in California

Earning a degree in criminal justice as part of becoming a California peace officer or advancing through the ranks means finding a flexible online program that fits your busy schedule. Concordia University, St. Paul provides the solution, offering online programs through CSP Global that align with California’s criminal justice system. Learn more.

There are many education resources that can help you begin your journey to a career in criminal justice. Following are a sampling that represent some of the more common professions in criminal justice.

  • Careers include corrections officer, corrections counselor, patrol officer
  • Has information about what the careers entail, exams, and how to apply
  • Careers include all types of police officers
  • Provides steps for becoming a police officer in California
Highway patrol officers: California Highway Patrol
  • Careers include highway patrol officers
  • Provides steps for becoming a highway patrol officer in California
  • Careers include deputy attorney generals, criminalists, crime analysts
  • Discusses how to apply for a job in the California Department of Justice and lists job vacancies

Innovations in Criminal Justice in California

Governor Gavin Newsom, who ran on a criminal justice reform platform, began taking steps to make changes soon after he took office in January 2019. What do these reforms mean for you? In part, it is important for you to know about how California is reshaping its criminal justice system. But some of these changes will also affect your education and subsequent work in criminal justice.

  • Use of force bill: This bill, prompted by the shooting of a 22-year-old black man in his grandmother’s backyard, stipulates that police officers may only use deadly force when it is “necessary,” rather than when it’s “reasonable.” One of the components of this law is to train police officers to better assess the situations they encounter and enhance their ability to make split-second decisions.
  • Criminal justice data bill: In the past, record-keeping and data collection for criminals was highly decentralized—which led to critical gaps. For example, some records have not included a judge’s ruling on a case, leaving those who were acquitted as “criminals” in their record. The new bill centralizes data collection and aims to make records complete. This means that police officers, detectives, prosecutors, and others will have more reliable data to work with.
  • Suspension of the death penalty: In March 2019 Governor Newsom placed a moratorium on the death penalty, meaning that no executions can occur while he is governor. He also ordered a reprieve for the 700+ inmates on death row. In the end, however, the fate of the death penalty will be up to the voters. Assemblyman Marc Levine has introduced an amendment to the constitution to abolish the death penalty. The bill will need to be passed by both houses of the state legislature, and then by voters. Anyone involved in criminal justice should make sure they stay informed about this issue.

Major California Cities




Main Criminal Justice Governmental Agencies and Entities in California

  • California Department of Justice—Office of the Attorney General: Led by the California Attorney General, this top law enforcement agency and legal department oversees the state’s complex criminal investigations. The agency employs positions such as attorneys, special agent investigators, researchers, and legal clerks.
  • California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR): This agency oversees the corrections branch of the criminal justice system in California by providing oversight of the prison and parole systems in the state. Jobs you’ll find within the agency include corrections officers, parole officers, correctional teacher or education supervisors, counselors, and case records technicians.
  • California Highway Patrol (CHP): Also known as the state police, this agency primarily has jurisdiction over state highways, but its jurisdiction can also extend to city and state streets. Positions you’ll find in this agency include CHP officers, public safety dispatchers, commercial vehicle inspection specialists, and motor carrier specialists.
  • Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST): POST sets the minimum standards for law enforcement training in the state. Services include job assessment tools, research generation about improving standards, counseling services for management, training resources (including reimbursement), and quality leadership education. Jobs within this office include law enforcement consultants, researchers, information technology associates, and professional development trainers.
  • California Courts: This agency oversees California’s judicial branch, including the state’s Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals, and Superior Court. While many positions in the courts are for attorneys, the system also hires analysts in a variety of specialties, including communications analysts and fiscal analysts.

Resources for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals in California

The following resources can be useful as you look into schools and connect with organizations and networks in the field.

California Criminal Justice Schools

Online programs may not be available in all areas