Most people think that those pursuing a degree in criminal justice are only interested in law enforcement. But that’s not always the case.
While policing is a popular career path, pursuing a degree in criminal justice opens you up to a wide variety of career paths filled with exciting, lucrative, and rewarding opportunities.
Criminal justice is a broad and rapidly evolving field. Those pursuing a career in this field can find work in both public and private sectors, including policy-making, correctional counseling, victim advocacy, law enforcement, and more. While the criminal justice fields are vast, they all encompass components of the law, public safety, and behavioral sciences, like sociology or psychology.
Let’s explore what the criminal justice field is as a whole, and the different fields in criminal justice that you can pursue when you obtain a career-focused degree.
What is the Criminal Justice Field?
Criminal justice is the system in which criminals are charged, apprehended, detained, judged, convicted, and sentenced for their crimes according to the law. The main components of the criminal justice system include law enforcement, the court system, and corrections facilities.
Several subfields also exist within these three branches, including:
- Homeland security
- Forensic psychology
- Social services
- Public administration
Each part of the criminal justice system works together to ensure that laws are upheld, and offenders are judged and sentenced fairly.
Different Criminal Justice Career Fields
Criminal justice is a broad field with many diverse career paths and opportunities. After graduating from a criminal justice degree program, many students move into positions in law enforcement, corrections, and other areas of the criminal justice field.
Here are ten options that depict the vast array of paths to choose from when pursuing a career in the criminal justice field.
1. Criminal Profiler
A criminal profiler specializes in techniques and training to identify suspects. Their main job is compiling and comparing data from crimes and offenders to create a suspect profile.
Criminal profilers formulate hypotheses by analyzing witness reports, victim testimonies, and crime scene evidence. They work with law enforcement agencies, visit and evaluate crime scenes, and perform extensive analysis to identify patterns of criminal behavior.
Detectives investigate and solve crimes by:
- Researching criminal cases
- Gathering and analyzing evidence
- Interviewing witnesses and suspects
- Preparing detailed reports
Detectives also may respond to emergency calls, arrest suspects, or appear in court to testify in cases. While most detectives work for law enforcement agencies, some work privately to help individuals or organizations solve cases.
Detectives typically specialize in a particular area, so there are many types, such as police detectives, forensic detectives, or cyber crime detectives.
3. Police Officer
Police officers find work, enforce laws, and protect the lives of citizens at the city, county, state, or federal level.
These criminal justice professionals closely monitor and patrol assigned areas to ensure welfare and safety, enforce laws, watch for illegal activity, and respond to calls regarding crime, criminal complaints, and emergencies.
Police officers also report incidents, issue citations, and make arrests.
4. Correctional Officer
If you want a career with elevated responsibility, consider becoming a correctional officer.
Correctional officers supervise the daily activities of offenders detained in correctional facilities or awaiting trial. They work to maintain security, ensure safety, and enforce rules at various correctional institutions.
They play an integral role in supporting offenders and formerly incarcerated individuals as they re-enter society and their communities. It is a physically demanding job that includes the following responsibilities:
- Checking inmates and visitors for contraband items, such as weapons, drugs, and other illegal substances
- Monitoring activities of incarcerated individuals
- Inspecting facilities to ensure they meet the maximum sanitary, security, and safety measures
Employers typically prefer correctional officer candidates with degrees in criminal justice or a closely related field like criminology.
5. Probation Officer
Working at the state or federal government level, probation officers serve and supervise specific individuals during their probation. They help people rehabilitate and prepare for life after probation. Probation officers are in constant communication with the offender and their family to support individuals in completing the terms of their probation.
Probation officers need strong interpersonal and communication skills to help those transitioning to life after incarceration. They support clients to further their education, gain fulfilling employment and achieve successful rehabilitation.
6. Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors support and advise individuals working to overcome addiction to substances such as drugs or alcohol. They provide support, including prevention, to aid clients in recovering from addictions, modifying problem behaviors, and improving mental health.
In correctional facilities, they evaluate inmates’ mental and physical health, educate them about addiction, create treatment plans, and help inmates develop the skills to change their harmful behavior.
7. Fish and Game Warden
Fish and game wardens oversee, protect, and manage wildlife for state and federal agencies. They enforce wildlife codes and fishing, hunting, and boating laws by ensuring individuals meet licensing requirements.
While the education and training requirements vary by state, employers prefer candidates with bachelor’s degrees.
Bailiffs are responsible for ensuring the safety of all participants present in a courtroom, including the judge and jury.
They do so by maintaining order in the courtroom and removing any disruptive individuals when necessary. Bailiffs also often announce the judge’s arrival and call the court to order.
Criminologists study, use, and even create sociological and criminological theories to explain what causes crime. They are employed by local, state, and federal government agencies to help solve crimes or identify methods of preventing criminal acts.
Individuals in this career field have helped create the crime scene investigation techniques we take for granted today, such as the fingerprint classification system. They’ve also contributed to judicial restructuring models like the restorative justice system conceptualized in peacemaking criminological theories.
Judges are legal professionals in the criminal justice field and are the head of cases in federal, state, and local courts. They govern the acceptability of all types of evidence, oversee witness testimonies, and resolve conflicts among opposing sides of attorneys.
With their advanced understanding of the law, judges:
- Carry out and implement laws and rules
- Ensure all proceedings safeguard the legal rights of all individuals
- Hold pretrial hearings to determine if the case needs to go to trial
They also work outside the courtroom by researching, reviewing cases and legal documents, and meeting with lawyers.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of rewarding and exciting careers in the criminal justice field. For example, you can work in responding to active crimes or gathering evidence, work in crime scenes and labs to analyze evidence, or find work in an office where you counsel and help others transitioning from criminal backgrounds.
It all starts with earning a degree in criminal justice that equips you with the specialized knowledge and skills you will need for this competitive industry. Learn more about Goodwin’s Criminal Justice Program here.