Degrees for Impactful Careers in Criminal Justice
One of the most impactful ways you can improve your community is by contributing positively to the criminal justice system. Every professional within law and justice has the potential to profoundly affect individuals as they interact with and pass through the system.
While a degree is not always a requirement to find a career in criminal justice, formal education can impact how you perceive the system and how you behave as a professional within it. Here are a few of the most common degrees amongst criminal justice professionals.
The most popular degree for a student interested in a career in this field, criminal justice tends to be a general program that provides broad knowledge and skill which can be applied to almost any job in the system. Criminal justice programs tend to be interdisciplinary, meaning they incorporate courses from a large number of subject areas — to include law, sociology, psychology, public administration and more — to ensure that students have the expertise they need to function effectively in criminal justice roles. Those who already have bachelor’s degrees might consider returning to school online for a Master’s in Criminal Justice degree, which allows students access to greater specialization which can lead to more career success.
Though sometimes used interchangeably with criminal justice programs, criminology is distinct from the above field in that it is the scientific study of crime itself. Criminologists strive to understand why criminals break the law, and in their studies, they draw largely from sociology, psychology, economics, statistics and more.
Graduates of criminology degree programs can find work across the criminal justice system, as a firm understanding of criminal behavior and motivations is always beneficial. Criminologists can also function effectively as community builders, like social workers, thanks to their deeper insight into criminals.
Police science is the study of police work. As important figures with incredible authority, police officers need to know the right ways to respond in every situation, and studying police science through a degree program can help officers identify the most widely beneficial behaviors and use them in service to the community.
Most police science programs involve research in fields such as criminology, forensic science, psychology, jurisprudence and more. Often, officers with police science degrees enjoy easier access to more elevated positions within their department, which gives them more autonomy and often more interesting and rewarding work.
Corrections is a field within criminal justice that focuses on prisons. Across the United States, prisons tend to be overcrowded, violent and inhumane, and many members of the corrections industry are eager to make changes that lead to better outcomes for inmates and their families.
Corrections degree programs study every aspect of imprisonment with the goal of innovating solutions that make the prison system function better in every way. Though corrections is not often considered a glamorous field within criminal justice, improving it could have a profound effect on the rest of American society.
A well-known field thanks to movies and TV series focused on the criminal justice system, forensic science involves the collection of evidence at crime scenes and the analysis of that evidence in the laboratory to help investigators understand more about crimes, victims and perpetrators. Before the advent of forensic science, there was rarely conclusive evidence linking the perpetrator to the crime.
Now, as science and technology continue to advance, forensic science has become an integral component of criminal investigation. Most experts in this field pursue a more generalized undergraduate degree in a physical or life science and then gain an advanced specialization in forensic science, but with increased interest in forensic science, many universities are beginning to offer bachelor programs in this field.
Paralegals conduct legal research and draft legal writing to help attorneys stay organized. Unlike full lawyers, paralegals can begin working in the legal field with just a two-year degree, which means they can begin earning real-world experience much faster than those committed to a pre-law program.
What’s more, paralegals often return to law school and function more effectively as attorneys thanks to their enhanced knowledge and skill of functioning law offices. Within the criminal justice system, paralegals are essential to both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Crime will always be a part of human communities, but through better management of the criminal justice system, you can help reduce crime rates and keep everyone in your community safer, healthier and happier.