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Criminal Justice Schools: Career Guide

A long time ago, criminal justice looked a lot different than it does today. A Boston Globe column reports that in medieval Europe, when a judge couldn't determine a suspect's guilt or innocence, he would order the defendant to plunge his hand into a cauldron of boiling water. The hand would be wrapped in bandages and examined in three days. If the hand was unscathed, the suspect was innocent. If it wasn't, he was guilty.

Criminal Justice Legal Safety

Today, our methods rely not on superstition but on people: an impartial jury of peers, trained legal experts, witnesses, forensic scientists, law enforcement officers, and a host of others. And in order for the system to function smoothly, it needs people who are trained for their professions--a task that is fulfilled, in part, by criminal justice schools.

Profile of a Criminal Justice Professional

The criminal justice system in the United States is divided into three branches: law enforcement, adjudication, and corrections. Within each of these branches is a vast array of career opportunities, making it challenging to describe a typical criminal justice professional.

The criminal justice professionals we hear most about include police officers, detectives, federal agents, lawyers, judges, forensic scientists, and prison wardens. These are just a few of hundreds of occupations, however. Some professionals may work outside of the justice system, such as policy analysts and teachers. Others may work within the system in jobs that generally don't make it to prime time, such as environmental compliance and campus patrol officers.

Criminal justice professionals may work for probation agencies, missing persons organizations, police departments, juvenile detention centers, law firms, correctional centers, district courts, crime laboratories, and more. And while some careers are exciting--and dangerous--others appeal to those seeking more mundane work environments, such as scholars and office workers.

Criminal Justice School Degrees

Each criminal justice profession has different training requirements. But it is increasingly common for people who are interested in the field to pursue degree programs through criminal justice schools.

Criminal justice schools may offer degrees at all levels. The schools have geared primarily toward police officer candidates, schools today may offer a range of training opportunities, from associate degrees for police officers to bachelor's degrees for government agents to master's degrees for forensic psychologists.

Is Online Criminal Justice School a Good Choice? You Be the Judge

Online criminal justice school programs have capitalized on two trends: one is the movement toward higher education in a wide range of occupations and the other is the overall interest in distance learning programs.

Online criminal justice school classes enable students to work at their own pace when they have time, without forfeiting their careers. Police officers, for example, may take online criminal justice school courses to advance their understanding of crime prevention and crime analysis and better position themselves for a promotion.

At some online criminal justice schools, coursework may be completed at any time. Other classes require students to participate at specified times through Web-based conferencing and other technologies. Also common are blended degrees that combine face-to-face instruction with online coursework.

The Evidence Lies in the Numbers: Job Growth and Salaries

In 2009, violent crime rates were the lowest ever recorded since 1994 according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The property crime rate decreased 16.1 percent from 2000 to 2009, according to the Crime in the United States, 2009. Do these numbers suggest that jobs in criminal justice are diminishing?

Not at all, although some professions offer more opportunities than others. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of police and detectives is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020. Continued demand for public safety may lead to new openings for officers in local departments; however, both state and federal jobs may be more competitive.

While salaries for criminal justice professionals are too numerous (and diverse) to list, following is a snapshot of mean annual salaries as of 2009, according to BLS data:

  • Lawyers: $129,020
  • Detectives and criminal investigators: $65,860
  • Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators: $63,250
  • Court reporters: $52,460
  • Paralegals and legal assistants: $50,080
  • Correctional officers and jailers: $42,610

Do Your Career Justice through Criminal Justice Schools

If you're like many Americans, you have a passion for justice. And if the news headlines captivate you--corrupt politicians, terrorist suspects, drug-dealing Hollywood starlets--then it might be time for you to turn your passion into a lifetime career through criminal justice schools.