The criminal justice industry is full of exciting opportunities in a variety of job capacities. A safe existence is a basic right of every citizen. For centuries, civilizations have employed many systems to identify, capture, convict, punish and rehabilitate wrongdoers. Today’s technological advances have created more ways than ever to strengthen the justice arena, resulting in an ever-wider selection of career options for qualified people. Efforts to combat terrorism, drug trafficking and cyber-crime have contributed to more opportunities for criminal justice-related jobs.
Professionals in the criminal justice field have a wide range of skills and training. They include neighborhood police officers, bodyguards, forensic investigators, paralegals, attorneys, criminologists and more. Individuals work in local organizations, as well as government bodies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Homeland Security.
There are many criminal justice degree programs available for people interested in careers in this growing field. Because the profession is becoming increasingly specialized, it is important that students receive training that is specific to their career goals.
A Sampling of Criminal Justice Careers
Police Detective: This career offers the challenge of being on the front line in hunting offenders. Detectives arrest suspects, interview eyewitnesses, interact with the legal system and supervise evidence. People who become detectives usually start their careers as police officers. In this capacity, they develop the street smarts and people skills that are necessary to becoming a successful detective. Many detectives have a four-year criminal justice degree, and have taken courses in areas such as psychology, constitutional law and criminal behavior. Detective salaries range from around $30,000 to $87,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average compensation is about $66,000.
Forensic Scientist: As widely demonstrated in popular television shows, forensic scientists and technicians analyze evidence from crime scenes and on victims. They examine DNA, weapons, chemicals and other elements that might identify and convict criminals. Some colleges offer forensic science degree programs. Other institutions offer an array of courses that help to prepare individuals for a career in this field. Recommended courses include biology, chemistry, toxicology and criminal justice. Starting salaries are typically below $35,000. Average pay ranges from about $38,000 to $46,000.
Probation Officer: People who work as probation officers enjoy the opportunity to rehabilitate offenders. They analyze their clients’ criminal records and communicate with families, friends and employers. Probation officers function as liaisons with the legal system to determine a probationary sentence. They are also responsible for ordering drug testing and monitoring their clients’ progress. The current average salary for a probation officer is approximately $40,000, but the most senior officers are capable of earning around $100,000. A criminal justice degree is necessary. Coursework in social work, corrections, psychology and data management is also helpful.
Customs Agent: With an increasing international focus on anti-terrorism programs, customs agents are becoming an integral part of national security. One of the main responsibilities of customs agents is to thoroughly inspect the contents of luggage belonging to people who enter the U.S. from other countries. In addition to identifying items commonly found in suitcases, customs agents discover drugs, illegal weapons, bombs and other dangerous objects. Some customs agents are qualified to arrest people. Salaries range from $28,000 to $46,000. A four-year criminal justice degree is required of people who wish to become customs agents. Courses in areas such as criminal justice and international law are especially relevant. Students training to become customs agents also study criminal behavior in the areas of money laundering, drug trafficking and fraud.
Paralegal: People employed as paralegals work closely with attorneys at law firms. Their duties range from scheduling appointments, transcribing, and filing. Some paralegals are assigned the job of interviewing clients. Paralegals assist lawyers in researching many elements of a criminal case, including past court decisions pertinent to the case. Jobs are available in the private and government sectors. Per the BLS, the average pay for a paralegal is about $50,000. Salaries may be higher in government jobs. A variety of training is available, from courses a few months in duration to in-depth, four-year degree programs.
According to information provided by the BLS, demand continues to be healthy for people with criminal justice degrees. For example, a ten-percent increase is predicted in the nationwide number of police officers from 2006 to 2016.