Criminal Justice and Law

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Earning a criminal justice or law degree prepares graduates for careers in growing fields. During these degree programs, students learn about the criminal justice system, the role of law enforcement in society, and criminal justice administration. Many majors specialize their training by pursuing a concentration in areas like homeland security, emergency management, or criminology. Students can also gain career-ready training with a specialization in forensic accounting, cyber crime, or forensic science.

Many criminal justice professionals earn above-average salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that police officers and detectives earn a median annual salary of over $65,000 per year. Lawyers make a median salary of nearly $123,000 per year, according to the BLS. This article introduces specialization options and career paths in criminal justice and law.

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What Do Criminal Justice and Law Professionals Do?

Law and criminal justice professionals investigate crimes, resolve criminal and civil disputes, and promote public safety. The criminal justice system, made up of law enforcement, the courts, and the correctional system, enforces the law. Police officers investigate illegal activities to hold criminals accountable, while the court system conducts trials. The correctional system detains and rehabilitates offenders.

Within the field of law and criminal justice, professionals can work as police officers, special agents, criminal investigators, and criminal profilers. The field also includes lawyers, judges, paralegals, bailiffs, and other legal professionals.

Most careers in criminal justice and the legal system require a degree. Federal law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, generally need a bachelor’s degree. Lawyers and judges need a graduate degree. Professionals can advance their current career or begin a new career by earning a degree in criminal justice.

How Much Money Can You Make If You Study Criminal Justice and Law?

Earning a degree in criminal justice or law prepares graduates for a variety of career paths. Many criminal justice and law careers offer above-average salaries. Police officers earn a median salary of over $65,000 per year, while private investigators make over $50,000 per year. In these roles, criminal justice professionals investigate crimes, collect evidence from crime scenes, and interview suspects. They also work with prosecutors to prepare cases and testify in court.

Several careers in law require a graduate degree. For example, lawyers and judges typically hold a JD degree from a law school. These career paths offer some of the highest salaries in the legal field. According to the BLS, lawyers and judges earn median annual salaries of over $120,000.

What Kind of Criminal Justice and Law Degrees Are Available?

Students can earn law and criminal justice degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. At the undergraduate level, learners can pursue a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. While an associate degree in criminal justice meets the educational requirement for many state and local law enforcement jobs, most federal law enforcement agencies require a bachelor’s degree.

At the graduate level, degree-seekers can apply to law school and earn a juris doctor degree to become a lawyer or judge. It typically takes three years of full-time study to earn a JD degree, and graduates must pass the bar exam to practice law.

A master’s in criminal justice prepares graduates for leadership roles like emergency management director, police supervisor, and supervisory criminal investigator. Most master’s programs take two years of full-time study to complete.

Finally, law and criminal justice students can earn a Ph.D. degree, which prepares graduates for research and academic roles. For example, graduates work as criminal justice professors or law school professors.

Criminal Justice and Law FAQs

Question Answer
How many years does it take to get a criminal justice degree? An undergraduate criminal justice degree generally takes four years of full-time study to complete at the bachelor’s level and two years at the associate level. Graduate criminal justice degrees typically take 2-3 years to complete.
What is the difference between a juris doctor and a law degree? A juris doctor is a law degree that prepares graduates for the bar exam and roles as practicing attorneys.
How long does it take you to get a law degree? Students can earn an associate law degree in two years of full-time study and a bachelor’s law degree in four years of full-time study. JD programs typically take three years of full-time study to complete.
Is criminal justice the same as law? The criminal justice system enforces the law. Police officers and other law enforcement officials investigate crimes. The court system conducts trials and the correctional system detains offenders.

What Criminal Justice and Law Specialties Are Available?

Within the broad field of criminal justice and law, students often focus their training through a specialization or concentration. Focusing on an area within law and criminal justice helps majors prepare for specific career paths after graduation. For example, a homeland security concentration provides focused training for careers in the Department of Homeland Security, while a law enforcement concentration leads to opportunities in local or federal law enforcement.

This list includes some of the top specializations in criminal justice and law. Prospective students can also research the available options at their school to specialize their degree.

  • Legal Studies

    A concentration in legal studies emphasizes the legal system and the relationship between society and its laws. As an interdisciplinary field, legal studies draws on the social sciences and criminal justice. Majors examine topics like social policy, theories of justice, and current issues in law and government.

    During a legal studies degree, students take classes in civil procedure, criminal law, and constitutional law. The curriculum also introduces majors to legal research, rules of evidence, and legal writing. Within a legal studies major, students may customize their studies through electives on topics like family law, business law, and law office administration.

    A legal studies specialization prepares graduates for roles in the legal system, public services, and government. For example, legal studies training can lead to careers as a paralegal, law enforcement officer, human resources manager, or compliance officer. The degree also provides foundational training for law school.

  • Criminal Justice

    A criminal justice specialization introduces majors to law enforcement, corrections, the courts, and other parts of the criminal justice system. Students learn about the relationship between social problems and crime, the motivations for criminal behavior, and criminal justice procedures.

    During a criminal justice degree, students take courses in criminology, criminal law, and law enforcement administration. The curriculum also emphasizes investigative and research methods while exploring the ethical responsibilities of criminal justice professionals. Many programs offer an internship or practicum to give students hands-on experience in a particular field. Criminal justice majors may also complete a capstone to apply their training.

    A broad and interdisciplinary major, criminal justice majors can work as police officers, social workers, correctional officers, bailiffs, and social services managers. With graduate-level training, they can also work as lawyers, judges, and clinical social workers.

  • Corrections

    A concentration in corrections trains majors for careers in the correctional system, which incarcerates convicted criminals and manages the parole and probation system. Students learn about the role of the correctional system in criminal justice, including its relationship with law enforcement and the courts. The specialization also introduces learners to the theory and practice of rehabilitative justice.

    During a corrections degree, students take classes in criminology, the U.S. prison system, and correctional law. The concentration also includes courses in juvenile justice, probation and parole, and correctional administration. Corrections programs may include a capstone where students apply the knowledge gained during their coursework to analyze corrections scenarios. Some programs also incorporate an internship to gain experience.

    After completing a corrections degree, graduates can work in local or state prisons and jails. The federal prison system typically requires a bachelor’s degree for entry-level roles. In addition to roles like correctional officer, graduates can work as parole officers, bailiffs, probation officers, and correctional treatment specialists.

  • Emergency Management

    A concentration in emergency management trains students in crisis management, disaster response, and emergency preparedness. The specialization also emphasizes risk assessment, hazard mitigation, and counterterrorism. Majors study the role of prevention in stopping manmade and natural disasters, as well as how to respond to emergencies.

    Students take courses in emergency responses to terrorism, risk communications, and homeland security. The curriculum may also cover chemical and biological hazards and weapons of mass destruction. Many programs incorporate an internship or practicum, which gives students professional experience under the supervision of an experienced mentor.

    An emergency management degree prepares professionals for titles like disaster recovery manager, emergency services director, and emergency management specialist. Graduates can pursue opportunities with local emergency response agencies and federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

  • Public Safety

    A public safety specialization covers law enforcement, homeland security, and emergency management concepts. Majors learn about the nation’s public safety system, the agencies involved in protecting public safety, and the major issues facing public safety. Students also explore the relationship between the criminal justice system and public safety, including the role of law enforcement, the courts, and emergency management agencies.

    During a public safety degree, majors take classes in criminal justice, homeland security, and public safety policies. The curriculum trains students to assess public safety risks, including risks posed by natural disasters, cyber attacks, and terrorist attacks. Majors also learn to prepare for public safety threats and mitigate their harm.

    After earning a public safety degree, graduates can pursue careers as public safety specialists, police officers, and crisis response specialists. They can also pursue opportunities in homeland security, emergency management, and federal law enforcement.

  • Homeland Security

    Criminal justice students who specialize in homeland security learn how to detect and protect against threats to national security. Majors learn about domestic and international security threats, the role of homeland security specialists in responding to attacks, and the role of intelligence in homeland security.

    During a homeland security degree, majors take courses on topics like international relations, legal issues in homeland security, and public safety administration. Students also learn about homeland security responses to different types of incidents, the importance of strategic planning, and homeland security policies. Majors may complete an internship with a homeland security agency to gain hands-on experience.

    Graduates with a homeland security degree can work in law enforcement, emergency management, and border protection. They can also work for the Secret Service or in customs enforcement. In these roles, homeland security professionals assess risks, respond to national security threats, and protect the homeland.

  • Cyber Crime

    A cyber crime specialization combines criminal justice as it relates to information technology. Cyber crime majors learn how to detect crimes like identity theft, illegal data breaches, and data intercepts. They also study how criminals commit cyber crimes like deleting and accessing data and attacking digital infrastructure.

    During a cyber crime degree, majors take information technology courses to learn about operating systems, network security, and databases. The criminal justice curriculum includes courses on cyber crime detection, digital forensics, and cyber attack investigation. Students may complete a capstone project to culminate the degree.

    Many law enforcement agencies rely on cyber crime specialists to conduct investigations and bring criminals to justice. For example, the FBI runs a cyber crime division, and the Department of Homeland Security also turns to cybercrime experts to uncover threats to national security.

  • Forensic Science

    A forensic science concentration trains students in crime scene investigation and the process of gathering forensic evidence. The degree mixes science and criminal justice. Majors learn how to collect and process forensic evidence at crime scenes. They also learn about the techniques and tools used to analyze forensic evidence.

    Majors also take science courses like biology and chemistry. Classes in criminal justice and law enforcement prepare majors to evaluate crime scenes and help investigators solve crimes. Majors may complete an internship to strengthen their training in a forensic laboratory.

    Graduates with a forensic science degree can work in law enforcement as crime scene investigators, forensic technicians, and forensic laboratory directors. These professionals may analyze DNA, interpret toxicology reports, and testify in criminal cases.

  • Forensic Psychology

    A forensic psychology specialization blends psychology, law, and criminal justice. The degree trains majors to understand criminal behavior and the motivations behind crime. By studying psychology and criminology, majors learn how to create a criminal profile and examine a defendant’s mental state during a trial.

    During a forensic psychology program, students take courses in abnormal psychology, criminal deviancy, and correctional psychology. The concentration also includes coursework in criminology, criminal law, and psychology. These classes emphasize analytical and research skills, which majors strengthen during a capstone or thesis project. Forensic psychology majors may also use case studies and criminal profiles to apply their knowledge.

    Graduates can work as criminal investigators, criminal profilers, jury consultants, and crime analysts. The degree also prepares students for graduate-level training in psychology.

  • Forensic Accounting

    A specialty in forensic accounting trains majors to investigate fraud and uncover financial crimes. Majors learn how to conduct an audit of financial statements, identify fraud, and document financial crimes. The degree also trains students to prevent fraud, interview suspects and witnesses, and testify in the court system.

    Students take courses on topics like auditing, fraudulent financial statement detection, and fraud investigation. Coursework builds investigative and critical thinking skills through assignments, projects, and case studies. After studying accounting rules and regulations, students learn how to uncover financial crimes and bring criminals to justice. Most programs include criminal justice coursework, since many forensic accounting professionals work in law enforcement.

    A forensic accounting degree prepares graduates for careers in law enforcement. Forensic accountants and fraud examiners investigate crimes like white-collar crime, securities fraud, money laundering, and embezzlement.

  • Criminology

    Criminology students examine the human mind to understand criminal behavior. Using concepts from disciplines like sociology and psychology, criminology majors investigate deviant behavior, the causes of crime, and the consequences of criminal conduct. The concentration also provides a strong foundation in criminal justice, since criminology majors study the role of law and the criminal justice system in responding to crime.

    During a criminology degree, students take classes in victimology, criminal procedures, and criminal law. The curriculum also trains students in the sociological theories behind crime, the role of culture and economic conditions in criminal behavior, and criminal justice policy. Depending on the program, students may also complete an internship with a law enforcement agency or a criminal justice organization to apply their training in a professional setting.

    Earning a criminology degree prepares graduates for careers as detectives and criminal investigators. Graduates can also work in federal law enforcement, in the correctional system, or in social and community services.

  • Computer Forensics

    A concentration in computer forensics trains students to investigate digital crimes and network security breaches. Through a blend of criminal justice and information technology courses, computer forensics majors learn how to uncover crimes and gather evidence from computers. They learn how to reconstruct digital data, recover deleted or encrypted files, and solve cyber crimes.

    During a computer forensics program, majors take courses in criminal procedures, cyber crime, and digital investigation techniques. Students also learn about operating systems, network forensics, and cybersecurity. Many programs incorporate an internship or practicum to give students hands-on experience in a law enforcement setting. Students may also complete a capstone project or thesis.

    Graduates with computer forensics training can work as computer forensics analysts, digital forensics examiners, and computer crime investigators.

  • Business Law

    A business law specialty trains students to apply principles of the law in a business setting. Majors analyze business problems that involve laws and regulations, particularly cases where the law shapes business decisions. During the program, majors take classes in business law, business ethics, employment law, and negotiation.

    While a business law specialization emphasizes law, majors can also strengthen their criminal justice training during the degree. For example, while many schools offer business law as a business administration concentration, students can also potentially study business law as part of a criminal justice degree, depending on the school.

    The degree can prepare graduates for jobs in business that require a strong legal foundation, such as human resources manager, compliance officer, and regulatory affairs specialist. Graduates can also pursue criminal justice jobs that intersect with business, like financial crimes analyst, IRS criminal investigator, and federal law enforcement agent.

  • Law Enforcement

    A law enforcement specialization prepares graduates for careers as police officers, detectives, and federal law enforcement officers. Students learn about the role of law enforcement in maintaining social order while building a strong foundation in criminal justice. Majors take classes in police administration, law enforcement operations, and the criminal justice system. The degree trains students to analyze and solve crimes, set law enforcement goals, and act as leaders in law enforcement organizations.

    During a law enforcement degree, majors may complete an internship to gain hands-on training. Many programs work with local law enforcement agencies to provide on-the-ground experience for law enforcement majors.

    Many careers in federal law enforcement require a bachelor’s degree. By choosing a law enforcement concentration, graduates can work for the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the Department of Justice. Other federal law enforcement careers include Secret Service agent, U.S. Marshal, and Special Agent.

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