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Illinois Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Though Chicago is often criticized for its high crime rate, homicides have dropped each year since 2016. By emphasizing community policing and adding more than 1,000 officers, the Windy City and the rest of Illinois now are experiencing greater demand for a new generation of well-educated criminal justice professionals.

Thanks to a large community college system and a vibrant Chicago city college system, you should have plenty of affordable options if you’re looking to go back to school for an associate degree in criminal justice. For those seeking a bachelor’s or advanced degree, the University of Illinois system or one of the state’s other public universities or private colleges offer a variety of program options.

Criminal Justice Careers in Illinois

Illinois’ criminal justice system can be divided into three areas: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Law enforcement is generally the first interaction people have with criminal justice, as it involves the prevention of crime and apprehension of criminals; the court system comes next and involves trials and mediation; the process ends with corrections, which includes incarceration and rehabilitation.

Law Enforcement Careers in Illinois

Law enforcement officers investigate crimes and uphold the law. In Illinois, state police act as highway patrol. Individual counties run sheriff’s offices, and local municipalities run police departments.

Career Career Outlook Annual Median Salary
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers 4% $82,670
Private Detectives and Investigators 9% $55,580

All data from O*Net

Careers in the Illinois Court System

After someone is arrested, courts determine the merits of the case and the penalties that may result. Prosecutors make the state’s case with the assistance of paralegals and legal assistants.

CareerCareer Outlook Annual Median Salary
Paralegals and Legal Assistants 16% $54,600
Prosecutor (Lawyer) 8% $126,770

All data from O*Net

Corrections Career Paths in Illinois

The corrections system metes out justice, making sure criminals “do their time” and are rehabilitated. Probation officers work with people convicted of crimes but who are serving sentences outside of jails. Parole officers follow up with people who are released early from jail or prison to make sure they keep out of trouble.

Career Career Outlook Annual Median Salary
Correctional Officers and Jailers 3% $63,330
Probation Officers 4% $68,080

All data from O*Net

Criminal Justice Education Resources in Illinois

Criminal justice comprises a large employment sector of the workforce, covering everyone that works in crime prevention, prosecution, and penalization. To find openings in the position of your choice, check out the employment pages for the following careers. Each discusses the application and hiring process.

  • Corrections: Illinois Department of Corrections
    Careers include correctional officers and correctional treatment officers.
    The site contains information about the job duties and process for becoming a trainee.
  • Police officers: Illinois Law Enforcement Training & Standards Board
    Careers include all types of city and county police officer roles.
    The site contains links to law enforcement academies throughout the state, including in Chicago and Cook County.
  • State troopers/Highway patrol officers: Illinois State Police
    Careers include state police (highway patrol officers).
    The site outlines fitness requirements, job duties, and the recruitment and selection process for becoming an Illinois state trooper.
  • Conservation police officers: Department of Natural Resources Office of Law Enforcement
    The career posted here is police serving in state parks (conservation police officers).
    The site details eligibility requirements, training, job duties, salaries, and hiring process.
  • Justice system: Office of the Attorney General
    Careers posted on the site include assistant attorney generals, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) officers, deputy general counsels, law clerks, legal secretaries, and paralegals.
    The site discusses how to apply for a job in the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and lists job vacancies.
  • Courts system: Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts
    Careers include appellate court research attorneys, law clerks, and probation officers.
    The site offers links to jobs within the Illinois judicial branch, including the supreme, appellate, and circuit courts.

Innovations in Criminal Justice in Illinois

Given that Chicago has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the United States, criminal justice reform is a popular topic of conversation in the city and the entire state of Illinois. This has manifested throughout multiple aspects of Illinois’ criminal justice system.

In 2016, the Chicago Police Department created a Community Policing Advisory Panel. Chicago P.D.’s community policing model focuses on partnering with local neighborhoods to improve public safety. It’s meant to counteract the antagonistic relationship between city cops and citizens in some areas. This approach can be more intensive than the standard model and requires officers trained in collaborative problem-solving techniques.

In 2017, the Illinois governor signed into law the Safe Neighborhoods Reform Act. Designed to increase prison time for repeated gun offenders, the law could eventually lead to a need for more corrections officers, though it’s not yet had much effect.

Also in 2017, the state supreme court created the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices. This relates to how the state determines bail amounts and under what conditions an arrested person may be released from custody before facing a jury. The commission is looking at pretrial detention, the first step toward reform of the entire system that would make release less dependent on financial resources and more contingent on safety and flight risk. That may shift jobs away from prisons and jails and toward probation and pretrial services officers.

Major Illinois Cities

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Main Criminal Justice Governmental Agencies and Entities in Illinois

  • Chicago Police Department: Chicago has the second-largest municipal police department in the country. It runs a mounted unit, marine and helicopter unit, and canine unit. Police officers can join the Bureau of Detectives.
  • Illinois Attorney General’s Office: The state attorney general represents the people of Illinois by enforcing state laws and advocating for their legal interests. That includes handling consumer complaints, running services that shield women and children from domestic violence, stopping scams that target the elderly and vulnerable, and prosecuting crimes. The office has attorney and non-attorney (e.g., legal secretary, paralegal) positions in Chicago, Springfield, and smaller regional offices such as Carbondale and Peoria.
  • Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority: ICJIA is a state agency that continually evaluates the criminal justice system to make it work more effectively. It distributes grants to state and local programs, which means its primary job openings are for research positions and grant specialists.
  • Illinois Department of Corrections: IDOC has been in charge of state prisons and parole services since 1970. It runs 25 correctional facilities. In addition to employing correctional officers (prison guards), IDOC also hires correctional treatment officers, who play a role in socializing prisoners for eventual release via trainings and social activities.
  • Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice: IDJJ is charged with detaining and rehabilitating young offenders. It runs five detention centers throughout the state and hires juvenile justice specialists with bachelor’s degrees to run programs and maintain safety.
  • Illinois State Police: The Illinois State Police is in charge of enforcing traffic laws. It also provides specialty forensic services to local police agencies, deals with riverboat gaming, and investigates any crime within the state’s executive branch. ISP agents also work with agencies—at the federal or local level—to investigate crimes such as trafficking that occur across jurisdictional lines. ISP predominantly hires patrol officers and forensic scientists. After two years of service, patrol officers can become agents to conduct investigations.
  • Office of Appellate Prosecutor: Illinois is one of seven states to use state’s attorneys, who represent Illinois as prosecutors in criminal trials. The Illinois State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor (ILSAAP) is in charge of employing assistant state’s attorneys at the county level for divisions covering juvenile, civil, traffic, and felony crimes.

Resources for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals in Illinois

If you’re just starting to research schools, joining a professional association may not be on your radar, but it should be. These organizations, filled with working professionals, frequently offer deeply discounted student memberships. For about the cost of a textbook, you might gain access to a network of mentors, scholarship funds, and resources beyond the scope of the school library.

  • Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police: With over 1,000 members from 450 local agencies, the ILACP has the resources to facilitate scholarship programs, educate citizens on public safety, and run regional job boards for peace officers.
  • Illinois Correctional Association: Federal, state, and county correctional officers are all welcome to join the ICA, which conducts professional development and helps educate the public and legislators on issues related to criminal justice.
  • Illinois Paralegal Association: IPA members get a monthly newsletter, triannual magazine, and reduced rates at conferences that count toward continuing legal education credit hours.
  • Illinois Police Association: IPA is predominantly a lobbying organization that works to protect police officer interests—from pensions to polygraph standards—within the state.
  • Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association: PBPA members can access a legal defense fund and have their families receive death benefits if they’re killed in the line of duty. Children of members are eligible for college scholarships.
  • Illinois Probation and Court Services Association: IPCSA runs a job board for probation officers and publishes a biannual newsletter detailing legislative affairs and funding issues relevant to the profession.
  • Illinois Prosecutors Bar Association: Law students and attorneys (prosecutors and non-prosecutors alike) can join ILPBA, which keeps them apprised of best practices and important legislative developments.
  • Illinois Sheriffs’ Association: In addition to holding annual trainings for many types of peace officers, the ISA funds scholarships, lobbies for legislation, and shares case studies with sheriffs.