From the investigative agencies to the courts to the correctional system and beyond, criminal justice is an ideal field for anyone with a commitment to community values, a belief in the rule of law and a dedication to serving others.
So what does a career in criminal justice involve?
In the most literal sense, a career in criminal justice involves administering justice to individuals who have committed or been accused of committing crimes. But the spectrum of criminal justice jobs spans a wide range of interests and specialties.
The important and necessary work of defending and protecting the rights and safety of others involves a career path that typically includes a focused approach to education and training — a degree in criminal justice can prepare you to serve your community and uphold values of justice and peace throughout your career.
Along with the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of individuals and a positive impact on your country and community, the career outlook is particularly bright for those who earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice, with salaries ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 and above. Here is a closer look at a selection of familiar criminal justice jobs:
- U.S. Marshal — When you work for the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, your duties may include transporting prisoners, conducting fugitive manhunts, providing security to judges and jurors and participating in tactical operations, asset forfeiture and witness security.
- FBI Agent — Agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation are responsible for investigating bank robberies, terrorism, cybercrime, public corruption, espionage, organized crime, drug trafficking and much more. The FBI is also constantly on the hunt for new agents, but if you are inspired to “protect the American people and uphold the Constitution” you’ll need a four-year degree from an accredited institution followed by rigorous training.
- CIA Agent — The Central Intelligence Agency’s primary mission is to “collect, analyze, evaluate and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the president and senior U.S. government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security.” As a special agent, you’ll be focused on operations intended to maintain the security of the United States and its citizens.
- Private Detective — This isn’t all about overnight stakeouts, as seen on TV. Working on behalf of private clients or hired to assist law enforcement agencies, private detectives are often called upon to do background checks and uncover information related to divorce cases, worker’s compensation claims and more. The private eye best known for inspiring the imagination about this line of work is, of course, the fictional super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes.
- Corporate Investigator — Your responsibilities in this role will vary greatly, from conducting background checks to investigating “any matter that may be a potential violation of law or company policy.” While you may or not end up involved in dramatic intrigue on the 46th floor of a skyscraper, as a corporate investigator incidents of embezzlement, corruption or blackmail may very well be on your radar screen.
- Crime Laboratory Analyst — Crime lab analysts help solve crimes by using toxicology, DNA and trace evidence, blood and hair samples, weapons involved in the crime, fingerprints and other evidence collected at the crime scene. Thanks to advancements in technology, many criminals are now brought to justice not with an arsenal of high-caliber weaponry but with microscopes and other high-tech forensic tools.
- Fish and Game Warden — Are you the type of person who would love to work outdoors in an important and meaningful position? Park rangers and fish and game wardens patrol forest preserves and waterways, national parks and other public lands to ensure that both the wildlife habitat and visitors are protected.
- Police Officer — The duty to “protect and serve” is an ideal calling if you’re looking to put your criminal justice education to work in any of a wide variety of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. This front-line criminal justice role is a time-honored way to build a career serving your community, as well as to advance into a variety of other fascinating law enforcement jobs.
- Fire Investigator — Much like a police investigator analyzes a crime scene, fire investigators are responsible for determining the cause of the fire. In cases of arson, the property becomes a crime scene and a criminal investigation is launched. As a fire investigator, you may work closely with law enforcement officials to identify, apprehend and prosecute arsonists.
- Correctional Officer — Correctional officers work primarily within jails and prisons at the local, state, and federal levels to supervise individuals who are convicted of crimes or awaiting legal proceedings. This extremely challenging, entry-level role can lead to advancement within the corrections system and can also be a foundation for exploring other aspects of the criminal justice world.
- U.S. Postal Inspector — Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will prevent postal inspectors from using forensics, interviewing and other investigative techniques to solve crimes that range from theft, vandalism and fraud to identity theft — with a specific focus on crimes that involve the U.S. Postal Service.
- Secret Service Agent — Typically thought of as the men and women who safeguard the president and other top government officials, the Secret Service is also tasked with anti-counterfeiting activities and bringing justice to those who break the laws related to our nation’s financial security.
- Computer Forensics Investigator — You’ll need advanced computer science forensic skills for this line of work, which often involves tracking or recovering electronic evidence that criminals may have tried to conceal or destroy. This is a great criminal justice career for those who possess a knack for understanding the inner workings of computers.
- Intelligence Analyst — In an era when our electronic devices collect more data than ever before, specialists are needed to gather and analyze relevant data to develop intelligence that can be used to solve crimes, assess potential security threats and more. While intelligence analysts can be found at the state and local levels, the majority work at the federal level for the FBI.
- Court Administrator — With duties that include overseeing the administrative needs of one or more courthouses (budget, facilities, case management procedures, etc.), working as a court administrator means you’ll also serve as a liaison between the court and other public or private entities.
- College Professor — Who’s going to teach the next generation of criminal justice professionals? An advanced degree in criminal justice or a related discipline is typically required to work in the classroom as a criminal justice professor, teaching courses in criminology, corrections and law enforcement operations and administration, and more — focusing on curriculum that combines cutting-edge theory with real-world applications.
- Investigative Reporter — Though the journalism industry has suffered from changing economic conditions, crime and investigative reporters are still needed at large print and electronic media organizations. As a crime reporter, you’ll use both journalistic and investigative skills to report on (or even break news about) criminal activities and how people are affected.
- Victim Advocate — People who work as victim advocates are trained to provide information, emotional support, access to services and a wide range of assistance to the victims of crimes, sometimes accompanying them to court proceedings. Though this is not traditionally a high-paying field, victim advocates are typically more motivated by deep reservoirs of compassion and empathy, and a desire to help others.
- Probation Officer — This is another option if you’re interested in making a one-on-one difference in the lives of others. Probation officers work with people released from the corrections system to ensure that they comply with the terms of their probation and to help them readjust to everyday life.
- Forensic Psychologist — If you’re looking to combine a specialization in psychology with a career in criminal justice, the role of forensic psychologist offers a chance to utilize deep understanding of human behavior to develop criminal profiles that law enforcement agencies can use to identify suspects and solve crimes.
- Chief of Police — Promotion to chief of police is a common goal if you’re looking to rise through the ranks in a law enforcement career. The chief provides overall leadership and serves as the public face of his or her department, while also handling budgetary, policy and community relations activities. In larger departments, the top law enforcement official often answers to the title of commissioner.
Some of the criminal justice careers detailed above require a degree in criminal justice or a related discipline, and others do not; however, in each of these roles, holding a degree in criminal justice will help give you a competitive edge in the eyes of top employers.
To learn more about the criminal justice bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the University of Cincinnati Online, contact us today to start a conversation. As well, be sure to check out our post on how to evaluate your career options as a criminal justice major.