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How much do criminal justice majors make?

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Criminal justice is a broad field encompassing many careers and salaries. Even for the same role and rank, salaries can differ due to several factors, such as where you live and who your employer is. In all fields of criminal justice work, there are ample opportunities for promotions and salary increases. In addition, depending on where you work, you could be eligible for early retirement, substantial pensions and other perks.

In this Article

Common criminal justice careers and their salaries

While there can be no guarantees regarding salaries, comparing median salaries for common criminal justice careers can be helpful, according to data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Median Annual Salary
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers $65,790
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $86,280
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives $96,290
Correctional Officers and Jailers $49,610
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $59,860
Security Guards $34,750
Emergency Management Directors $79,180
Forensic Science Technicians $63,740

Factors affecting salaries

Looking at average salaries is just a starting point when estimating what you might earn in your criminal justice career. Within any specific career, salaries can be influenced by your level of education, geographical location, years of experience, and specialty or expertise. 

Level of education

According to the BLS, the higher your level of education, the more money you may be able to make. In many police departments, officers with an associate or bachelor’s degrees are paid more, even if they hold the same rank.

Many employers, such as police departments and correctional facilities, may not require a college degree to get started. However, these employers might offer raises to encourage you to continue your education, explains Cody Telep, associate professor in criminal justice at Arizona State University.

“Many of these organizations do have some sort of education incentive program where you might be making a little more with a degree,” Telep says.

Careers in criminal justice that require master’s degrees or doctorates, such as researcher, psychologist, or professor, will likely have the highest salaries. 

Geographic location

Your location can make a significant difference in your pay. For example, you may earn different salaries in different states even for the same position, experience, and education.

Salaries in large metropolitan areas are usually higher than those in small and medium-sized cities. The three highest salaries for detectives and criminal investigators are in the New York City, Washington, D.C., and San Diego metro areas.

Metro Area Median Annual Salary
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT $66,770
New Haven, CT $63,540
Madison, WI $59,570
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI $58,240
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $57,560

Areas with large populations also have a larger demand for workers. For example, they have a greater need for law enforcement, security personnel, and corrections officers. Therefore, population sizes can impact salaries and employment levels. 

Rank and specialty

Additionally, your rank, specialty, or expertise can affect your salary. For example, in law enforcement, officers hold positions in a chain of command similar to the military.

You may also get a pay raise by obtaining a certificate in a specialty such as emergency management, homeland security, or domestic violence.

Employees with unique expertise, such as computer forensics experts, may also make higher salaries. In addition, workers with skills that are in demand can be paid more. 

Salaries in the public vs. private sector

As a professional in the criminal justice field, you may be employed by a government entity. These entities can be local, state and federal governments that usually oversee law enforcement departments, detention centers and correctional institutions.

Generally, the higher the level of government, the more money you will make. For example, a correctional officer working for a local or state government might make a median salary of $53,920 and state government $53,470, whereas a federal correctional officer’s median salary is $59,690.

While governments have traditionally been the biggest employers in the criminal justice field, opportunities are growing in the private sector.

Vesna Markovic, associate professor at Lewis University in Illinois, explains that large corporations employ security analysts and investigators who perform such duties as loss prevention, security checks and risk assessments. As a result, they also greatly need people trained in cybersecurity.

“If you’re tech-savvy and you go through a criminal justice program, you could get a job in the private sector,” Markovic states.

Cybersecurity pays well, too. The BLS reports that salaries for information security analysts working in computer systems design can make an annual median salary of $66,010 to $174,540 for those working in IT.

Nonprofit organizations also hire criminal justice workers, though there could be great variation in the pay rates. Therefore, the salaries of nonprofit workers are impacted by the organization’s size and specific role.

“We are seeing more students interested in criminal justice reform or non-profit organizations that do community-based work,” Telep points out.

Many positions in nonprofit organizations require bachelor’s degrees or higher. 

Benefits for criminal justice careers

Professionals in criminal justice careers, especially those employed by government entities, enjoy benefits such as paid time off, overtime opportunities and pensions.

Police officers also have the benefit of early retirement, says Telep. “You can retire at a very young age, after putting in 20 or 25 years,” he explains.

Many retired law enforcement officers have second careers in security, consulting or teaching within the private sector.

Frequently asked questions

Is getting an undergraduate or graduate degree the only way to get a raise in salary?

No. While your bachelor’s or master’s degree could lead to a salary hike or qualify you for a better-paying position, you will likely have many other chances to boost your pay in a criminal justice career. For example, in law enforcement, you may be eligible for raises as you gain experience or once you get promoted to a new rank.

What are some of the highest paying jobs in criminal justice?

In the criminal justice system, federal-level law enforcement agents and investigators make the most money, and the BLS reports that First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives, which includes directors, chiefs and other administrators in law enforcement, make an annual median wage of $96,290.

Do crime scene investigators make a lot of money?

The BLS classifies a crime scene investigator as a Forensic Science Technician. The annual median salary, $63,740, is comparable to that of police and patrol officers.

Could you earn a larger salary if you get a college degree in criminal justice?

It’s a possibility. As previously stated, a college degree can help you qualify for better-paying jobs or management positions with generally higher salaries.

karen hanson

Written and reported by:

Karen S. Hanson

Contributing Writer

vesna markovic

With professional insight from:

Vesna Markovic

Chair and Associate Professor of Justice, Law, and Public Safety at Lewis University

cody w telep

Cody W. Telep

Associate Professor and Associate Director, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University