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.
Those in law enforcement are the on-the-ground officials working to prevent and investigate crimes and to enforce laws.
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.
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.
Criminal Justice Educational Resources in California
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.
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.
- The California Association of Highway Patrolmen: State labor union for California highway patrolmen that advocates on their behalf and provides them with benefits (e.g., insurance and long-term disability plans)
- California Police Chiefs Association: Represents police chiefs from around the state; works to advance police administration and crime prevention by creating and disseminating best practices, providing professional development, serving as a connecting point for members, and encouraging adherence to high standards of professional practice in the field
- California Peace Officers’ Association: Leadership and professional development hub for California law enforcement professionals
- California State Sheriffs’ Association: Nonprofit organization representing sheriffs around the state; focuses on bringing modern technology into law enforcement, developing policies and procedures, building and maintaining relationships with state elected officials, and addressing unique problems for sheriffs around the state
- California Crime Prevention Officers’ Association: Provides training in crime prevention and community outreach, opportunities to network, and advocacy for strong crime prevention legislation
- California Probation, Parole & Correctional Association: Supports those who work in corrections through education and information sharing, professional development, the development of standards, and legislative advocacy
- Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice: Nonprofit organization that works to provide alternatives to incarceration for juveniles
- California Statewide Law Enforcement Association: Union representing a large and varied group of law enforcement officials, including special agents, fish and wildlife wardens, firefighters, and police officers
- California Correctional Peace Officers Association: Labor union advocating on behalf of correctional officers in the state
- California Homicide Investigators Association: Networking and professional development organization for homicide investigators in California
- California Prison Industry Authority: A self-supported company that provides work assignments in manufacturing, consumable operations, and service for current offenders within the California corrections system
- Northern California Forensics Association: Nonprofit association that provides educational speakers for forensics educational programs in Northern California
- California Association of Criminalists: Professional organization providing education, professional development, and networking opportunities for criminalists in California
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