So you’ve decided you’d like to have a career in criminal justice but aren’t sure what you’d like to be? Luckily for you, there are many choices for criminal justice degrees. Each has different requirements and responsibilities and offers different wages. Hopefully, after reading this informative article, you’ll have a better idea of what is all entailed in a criminal justice career and what you can expect.
Explore Different Types of Careers in Criminal Justice
Regardless of what type of career you want in criminal justice, you’re going to have to complete some education and training. There are many different choices from which to choose when you’re interested in criminal justice. Here are the occupations most often chosen within the criminal justice field.
- Police Officer
- Sheriff’s Patrol Officers
- Probation Officer
- Parole Officer
- Correctional Officer
- Police Detective
- Criminal Investigator
- Prison Guard
Choosing a Criminal Justice Degree
The type of training or degree you must have depends what you may have as an ultimate career goal. To make it easier, I’m listing some of the most common types of criminal justice careers and what they require in the way of education and training.
Police Officer, Sheriff’s Patrol Officer or Detective
To become a police officer, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent and complete training at a police academy. Some students to choose to go to college, earn an associate degree in criminal justice and then enroll in their local police academy. Or upon successfully completing their degree program, they apply for employment with their local police or sheriff’s department. The training may take a year and is generally followed with on-the-job training in the form of ride-alongs or internships. With additionally training and work experience, police officers may advance to detectives, sergeants, lieutenants, etc.
Probation Officer, Parole Officer or Correctional Officer
To work in one of these capacities, you’ll generally need to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, behavioral science, social work or a similar field. In addition to earning a degree, you’ll need to complete a government-sponsored training program. Once you’ve completed this training, you’ll need to pass a certification exam and may also have to complete an internship that may last up to a year. As a probation officer, you may choose to specialize in a specific area such as substance abuse or domestic violence, among others.
Additional Requirements for Criminal Justice Careers
In addition to completing a training program, candidates for criminal justice careers must meet other requirements, such as being 21 years old, a U.S. citizen and possessing a valid driver’s license. Candidates must also meet specific guidelines involving physical fitness. To be eligible for this type of work, you must pass not only comprehensive written exams but also vision tests, hearing tests, and physical agility tests.
They must also show they are of sound moral character. In some areas, the candidate may be required to take a drug test and a lie detector test. Sometimes the additional requirements are more complex than the educational training.
Criminal Justice Degrees & Online Education
With the popularity distance learning has gained in recent years, there are very few programs that are not offered over the Internet. Criminal justice is another of the many degrees that can be earned through online education. The programs may be 100% online or of hybrid nature, which means some courses are offered over the Internet while others must be completed on campus.
Even with the 100% online programs, students are required to complete the actual hands-on police training. Internships, whether riding along in a squad car or working dispatch, are an integral part of criminal justice training. Online learning, however, offers aspiring criminal justice graduates the opportunity to earn a degree while continuing to work full-time and meet other obligations.
Job Demand for Criminal Justice Graduates
Despite the constant need for qualified criminal justice professionals, the job outlook/demand for criminal justice graduates is relatively low, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). For instance, those interested in working as a parole officer, probation officer, prison guard or correctional officer can expect little to no growth in employment between 2012 and 2012 while those who want to be a police officer or police detective can expect only a five percent employment growth for that period.
As reported by the BLS, the states with the highest level of employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania while the states with the highest level of employment of police detective and criminal investigators are Texas, California, Texas, New York, Florida and Arizona. The highest level of employment of police and sheriff’s patrol officers was in California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois as of 2013.
Average Salary for Criminal Justice Graduates
The average salary for criminal justice graduates can vary, depending on what type of occupation the graduate has chosen. As of May 2013, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earned a mean annual wage of $48,440 while police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned about $56,160. Detectives and criminal investigators, who required more training and experience, earned an annual wage of almost $77,000, according to the BLS.
As you can see, the average salary for law enforcement graduates can fluctuate depending on what occupation they choose. Other factors that can affect the average salary for policy officers or the average salary for correction officers is location and years of experience on the job.
Other Careers Related to Criminal Justice
Although there are various types of criminal justice careers you can choose, there are other careers that one can choose that are very similar yet offer different opportunities, work environments, and require different educational degrees or certificates.
- Social & Human Service Assistants: $28,850; High School Diploma & Additional Training
- Social Worker: $44,200; Bachelor’s Degree
- Substance Abuse & Behavioral Counselor: $38,520;
High School Diploma & Some Postsecondary Education
- Security Guards & Gaming Surveillance Officers: $24,020;
High School Diploma & On-The-Job Training
- EMT & Paramedic: $31,020; High School Diploma & Postsecondary Non-Degree Award
- Firefighter: $45,250; Postsecondary Non-Degree Award
- Private Investigator & Detective: $45,470; High School Diploma & On-The-Job Training
- Air Traffic Controllers: $122,530; Associate Degree
- Community Health Worker: $41,830; Bachelor’s Degree
- Rehabilitation Counselor: $33,880; Master’s Degree