Criminal Justice FAQ
Do you binge-watch original crime series like “The Killing,” “Dexter,” or “Orange is the New Black”? Maybe the eerily accurate criminal investigator protagonists in “Sherlock” and “Lie to Me” fascinate you. Is the brilliant mind of “Damages” attorney, Patty Hewes, your idea of awesome? If you’ve always thought that you might be perfectly suited for a professional career in criminal justice, we’ve compiled this list of the most popular frequently asked questions about careers and degrees in the criminal justice arena.
1. What is criminal justice?
A broad definition provided by the National Center for the Victims of Crime states: “The criminal justice system is the set of agencies and processes established by governments to control crime and impose penalties on those who violate laws.”
The U.S. criminal justice system is made up of numerous individual entities at the state and federal levels with five main branches that contribute to the process:
- Law enforcement officers investigate crimes, gather and protect evidence, and file crime reports. They may arrest offenders.
- Prosecution lawyers represent the state or federal government from the first time the accused appears in court until the accused is acquitted or sentenced.
- Defense attorneys defend the accused against the government's case. They are either hired by the defendant or assigned to them by the court if the defendant cannot afford an attorney.
- Courts are run by judges who ensure the law is followed and oversee everything that takes place in the courtroom.
- Corrections officers supervise convicted offenders in jail and in prison as well as when they are released into the community on probation or parole.
2. What are the different types of criminal justice degrees?
Three degree levels are available in the criminal justice field: Associate, Bachelor’s and Master’s. Certificates and diplomas options are also available for Criminal Justice Specialists.
3. How fast can I earn my criminal justice degree?
Brown Mackie Colleges innovative and flexible One Course a Month® degree makes it easy for students to earn their Associate degree in as little as 26 months. The focused schedule is specifically designed to integrate into the life of a student currently working a full-time job.
If you already have your Associate degree, Brown Mackie College can help you obtain your Bachelor’s degree in as little as four years with our One Course a Month® program.
Other colleges or criminal justice schools may vary in program length requirements.
4. What will I do with a criminal justice degree?
An Associate degree in criminal justice prepares you for entry-level jobs in corrections, investigations, juvenile law, law enforcement and security. Courses typically focus on criminal evidence, law enforcement operations and victimology. These classes provide a strong foundation for future work with local government agencies, security companies and private investigators.
You can learn how to analyze crime data and how to predict patterns of criminal behavior in order to create criminal profiles. You develop strong communications skills, along with decision-making and critical-thinking skills.
A Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice qualifies you for a wide range of jobs in law enforcement, forensics, social services, private security and paralegal/legal assistant. This is also the path to becoming a private detective, probation officer, or correctional officer.
A Master’s degree in criminal justice helps you advance your degree in law enforcement, corrections, court systems and academia. Many of your plentiful career choices with this degree involve some sort of management. A Master’s program helps you develop a strong knowledge base and skillset for more advanced positions, including opportunities with the FBI, Homeland Security, emergency management or other federal agencies. You can choose a Master of Science in criminal justice or a Master of Arts in criminal justice.
5. What types of criminal justice jobs are available after graduation?
One of the biggest advantages to earning a Bachelor’s in criminal justice is the real-world applicability and the great need for this kind of work. Although some of your classmates may go on to law school, and others will pursue a Master’s so that they can teach college-level courses, you have many opportunities to choose from with your Bachelor’s degree.
Based on current demand and compensation, some of the best Bachelor-level criminal justice jobs available include:
Law Enforcement – Although some local police departments don’t require a degree, your Bachelor’s gives you a significant advantage in a very competitive job market. If you aspire to lieutenant or sergeant, a degree is often necessary. If the role of detective or investigator calls to you, courses in criminology, forensics and statistics serve you well. You also have access to jobs with the FBI, U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
Private Security – Your courses in criminology, sociology and psychology make you an ideal candidate for a career providing security for private businesses and government agencies. Preventing crime and economic loss makes this a very diverse field.
Paralegal/Legal Assistant – Law firms need skilled employees able to perform extensive legal research, maintain files and assist clients.
Compliance Manager – Large companies have to comply with an increasingly complex set of federal, state and local laws and regulations. Compliance managers draft documents covering operating procedures and job hazards to meet these standards, perform legal research, examine contracts, develop policies and conduct staff training.
Corrections or Probation Officer – These front line workers staff jails, prisons, and federal, state and county probation agencies. Demand has been increasing in recent years, thanks to new prison construction and the hiring needs of the private companies taking over facility management contracts from municipal governments.
6. What’s the criminal justice career outlook?
Although dependent upon which field you specialize in and the geographical region in which you work, most careers in criminal justice are expected to grow at a pace in line with the national average. Two noteworthy exceptions include:
Private detectives and investigators will be in greater demand due to security concerns and the need to protect confidential information. There will be strong competition for jobs over the coming years in this field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Forensic science technician employment is projected to grow 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS, with strong competition for jobs due to the interest in this area.
7. Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to work in criminal justice?
Not necessarily. Although agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Marshals service require citizenship, as do most local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, other employers will hire an alien authorized to work in the U.S. with a work visa or green card who has applied for U.S. citizenship. Some employers can make continuation of employment contingent upon obtaining citizenship in the proper amount of time.
8. Can I get a job in criminal justice with a criminal record?
Felony convictions and certain misdemeanor convictions or arrests will disqualify you from gaining employment in most law enforcement agencies. But in order to determine your chances for employment, you must contact the specific agency you are interested in to determine their hiring standards. Some agencies have their own unique crime and violation-related “employment disqualifiers.” The type of position you are applying for and the seriousness of the offense committed are important factors.
Less severe misdemeanors might not disqualify you, and other positions, such as private attorney, security services, bond agent and bounty hunter don’t require a pristine record.
9. Are there gender requirements for specific jobs in criminal justice?
No. While the law prohibits discrimination in criminal justice careers based on gender, law enforcement employers can legally require you to pass a physical fitness test as well as hearing, vision and medical tests. The FBI typically requires that applicants be 35 years old or younger, so each agency may have other non-gender-related hiring policies and requirements.
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