Explore the Range of Criminal Justice Jobs
Learn about the criminal justice jobs you can get with the right education.
Make the Right Choice
Careers in criminal justice are exciting, challenging and financially rewarding. There are criminal justice jobs in every area of the legal system. You can help prevent crime, catch criminals, hold the guilty accountable, or help individuals who have served their debt to society.
Police officers enforce the law at the city, county or state level. In these criminal justice jobs, you are the first line of defense against crime, helping to protect your fellow citizens in the most direct way.
Police officers are responsible for the following:
- Neighborhood patrols
- Criminal investigation
- Emergency response
- Highway safety and much more
The minimum requirements to become a police officer are a high school degree or GED, and passing scores on competitive written and physical evaluations. If you are accepted by a law enforcement agency, you will receive basic training at a police academy. However, a 2-year associate’s degree or 4-year bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice-related area can significantly increase your career options and make you a more attractive candidate.
Federal Law Enforcement Careers
Like police officers, federal law enforcement agents prevent and investigate crime. However, federal criminal justice jobs involve working directly for a particular government agency, such as the FBI, DEA, IRS, INS, Department of Homeland Security or Secret Service. Your work in a federal law enforcement career will usually be quite specialized. For example, you might fight drug trafficking as a DEA agent or evaluate security programs as an officer in the Federal Protective Service.
Federal law enforcement jobs are highly selective and demand top-quality candidates. Extensive testing and evaluation is required. You will need a college degree in criminal justice or another relevant area of study, as well as some criminal investigation experience or graduate-level education.
Careers in Crime Scene Investigation
Crime scene investigators have an exciting criminal justice job. Their work starts when police officers or detectives identify a crime scene.
Here, they'll do the following:
- Document crime scenes in detail
- Collect any physical evidence they find
- Gather fingerprints, DNA samples and other evidence so that it can be properly analyzed and admitted in a court of law
The type of education you need for these careers in criminal justice will depend on your specific career goals. An associate’s degree or certificate program is enough for some evidence collection and documentation jobs. A bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required to work in a crime laboratory.
Paralegals work primarily for law firms and assist lawyers in almost every aspect of their work. While not strictly a criminal justice job, paralegals are deeply involved in the legal system (yet they don’t have to go to law school).
Paralegals perform the following tasks:
- Conduct research
- Draft legal documents
- Investigate cases
- Locate witnesses
- Manage litigation case files
Corrections Officer Careers
Corrections careers in criminal justice involve securing inmates in jails and prisons.
Corrections officers perform the following job duties:
- Conduct routine inspections
- Provide reports on inmate behavior
- Enforce the rules of the facility, which may be run by the government or by a private for-profit organization
The minimum requirements for these criminal justice jobs are a GED or high school diploma and passing scores on written and physical examinations. You cannot be convicted felon and you must be at least 18 years old. If hired, you will receive on-the-job training. However, you will have a much better chance of being promoted—and earning a higher salary—if you earn a criminal justice degree.
Careers in Probation
Probation officers may work at the city, county, state or federal level. If you choose this career, you will spend your time performing these tasks:
- Supervising criminals who are serving their sentence in community corrections—probation—rather than in prison
- You may also work as a parole officer, supervising offenders after they are released from prison on parole
These criminal justice jobs require excellent communication skills, knowledge of the criminal justice system, and the ability to earn the trust and respect of all types of people.
The best preparation for a career as a probation officer is a criminal justice degree. Some probation officers also attend a police academy as part of their training and certification, qualifying them to carry a badge and enforce the law as peace officers.
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