Criminal Justice Career Overview

If you enjoy public services, interacting with others, and want to make a difference, a criminal justice degree may be right for you.

Criminal justice careers focus on protecting and keeping the public safe. A criminal justice degree can lead to legal positions, work in law enforcement, and other protective services. If you enjoy public services, interacting with others, and want to make a difference, a criminal justice degree should be a good fit.

Colleges offering a degree or certificate in criminal justice are listed at the bottom of this page. You can also learn more about the various study areas and specializations for a criminal justice degree below.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND LEGAL STUDY AREAS

Criminal justice and legal degrees can lead to a variety of employment options in both the public and private sectors. Careers in both protective and legal services are expected to increase over the next ten years about as fast as other occupations.

Positions in the protective services are expected to increase by 3% between 2018 and 2028, adding 95,200 new jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also shows that employment in legal careers is projected to grow 7% in this same time period and will add about 93,300 new jobs.

The fastest growing positions are paralegals and legal assistants, which are expected to increase 12%, according to the BLS. Many law offices are looking for ways to reduce costs and increase efficiency, creating a higher demand for paralegals and other legal assistants. The demand for lawyers is expected to continue as people and businesses require legal services, bringing with it a greater demand for legal assistants.

Check out the following breakdown of projected growth through 2028 in popular protective services and legal careers:

Protective Services

  • Correctional Officers and Bailiffs: -7%
  • Fire Inspectors: 8%
  • Firefighters: 5%
  • Police and Detectives: 5%
  • Private Detectives and Investigators: 8%
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers: 4%

Legal Careers

  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators: 8%
  • Court Reporters: 7%
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: 3%
  • Lawyers: 6%
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants: 12%

Criminal Justice Salary Forecast

With a degree or educational background in criminal justice, you will have so many different career opportunities. Many criminal justice career opportunities offer strong salaries and benefits because many positions are funded by government agencies. Employees often receive excellent benefits packages including health insurance, vacation and sick pay, and retirement plans.

The average annual salary for protective services in May 2019 was $41,580, while the average for legal careers was $81,820, according to the BLS. Below is a breakdown of median annual salaries for various criminal justice careers.

Average Salaries for Criminal Justice Careers in May 2019

PROTECTIVE SERVICES

  • Correctional Officers and Bailiffs: $45,300
  • Fire Inspectors: $60,230
  • Firefighters: $50,850
  • Police and Detectives: $65,170
  • Private Detectives and Investigators: $50,510
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers: $29,710

LEGAL CAREERS

  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators: $63,930
  • Court Reporters: $60,130
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: $120,090
  • Lawyers: $122,960
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants: $51,740

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Protective Services and Legal Occupations.

Education Level Required for Entry Positions

PROTECTIVE SERVICES

  • Correctional Officers and Bailiffs: High-school diploma
  • Fire Inspectors: High-school diploma and work experience
  • Firefighters: Postsecondary nondegree award
  • Police and Detectives: High-school diploma to bachelor’s degree
  • Private Detectives and Investigators: High-school diploma
  • Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers: High-school diploma

LEGAL CAREERS

  • Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators: Bachelor’s degree
  • Court Reporters: Postsecondary nondegree award
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: Doctoral or professional degree
  • Lawyers: Doctoral or professional degree
  • aralegals and Legal Assistants: Associate’s degree

WHAT ARE CLASSES LIKE IN A CRIMINAL JUSTICE MAJOR?

The courses covered in a criminal justice major offer a great foundation in the law and judicial processes of our nation. The following is a general list of courses colleges will likely offer in a criminal justice program:

  • Administration
  • Constitutional Law
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Criminal Profiling
  • Evidence
  • Eyewitness Testimony
  • Forensic Law
  • Judicial Process
  • Police Science
  • Psychology
  • Research Methods
  • Sociology
  • Victimology

Additional Skills Required for Criminal Justice Degree Students

Students studying criminal justice should also have an excellent sense of right and wrong, honesty, integrity, and a strong sense of responsibility. They also need to be very observant, analytical and enjoy investigating difficult situations.

For those going into the law field, excellent writing skills and logic skills are critical. For those going into the front lines of law enforcement, excellent physical conditioning is essential.

Should You Study Criminal Justice?

A degree in criminal justice can open up so many opportunities for you, depending on what you’re most interested in. You have the option to go more into public safety, such as a police officer or a firefighter, or you can go more the legal route to become a lawyer, judge or paralegal.

What you want to specialize in will determine how much education you’ll need, as some only require a high school diploma, while others require a master’s or doctorate degree. A career in criminal justice can be very rewarding, as you’ll get to use your skills for the greater good of your community to keep people safe from harm.

SOURCE FOR ALL DATA: BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS

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