Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

5 Top Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries

Criminal justice careers have grown to be increasingly broad over the years, spanning from local to federal positions in the legislature or judicial system around the nation.  As a result, the top criminal justice careers are often changing, but many of the highest ranked have managed to stay the same over the years.

Police Officer: $30,000 – $80,000 (depending on experience)
Becoming a police officer is indeed the stereotypical outcome of a criminal justice degree, but there are now so many different departments in law enforcement that you have a wide variety of careers to choose from.  Depending on whether you want to be a local police officer, detective, or work in a specific department (like narcotics or homicide), your experiences in the force can be different and you may have different salaries as well.

Forensics Analyst: $47,000 – $56,000
One of the newer realms of criminal justice is that of forensics.  This realm in criminal justice has led to the release of many innocent people, as well as the apprehension of the guilty ones.  Forensics has become an integral part of many high profile cases, and technology has allowed this to become better suited to discovering the true nature of the crime.  Forensics can now tell us intimate information about the criminals’ DNA and body type, factors that were not in existence only a few years ago.  

Border Patrol Agent: $55,000 (average)
Border patrol agents have become increasingly important in our modern, globalized world, as they protect our nation’s borders against illegal drugs and contraband from entering the country.  While the vast majority of their time is taken up looking for illegal immigrants around the US-Mexican border, border agents also play a large role in customs at the border and in border towns at various “checkpoints” that exist an hour from the border.  Their line of duty has many dangerous aspects and they have become a major part of protecting our country’s borders. 

Defense Attorney: Varies
Defense attorneys make up a large part of the criminal justice system, as they typically represent many of the criminals who find their way into court.  Their salaries range in amount based on a number of factors, including their firm, their clients, and their experience in the courtroom.  Defense attorneys are a pivotal force in the criminal justice system and represent a number of clients whose cases make drastic changes in the court system.  While this career involves more education than other criminal justice degrees, it is well worth it in the end.

Private Investigator: $40,000 (average)
Finally, the career of private investigator may seem outdated in a world that is connected via the internet, but has proven to continue to be needed despite technological advances.  Private investigators are called for a number of reasons, many of which involve family disagreements or disputes, but regardless of their reason, they remain a major role in the criminal justice system and continue to be needed. 


The Heartbreak of Criminal Justice Degrees

Criminal justice degrees typically teach students how to uphold notions of justice in a world that is quickly losing sight of what is ethical.  However, recent years have indicated that our views of what justice means are quickly becoming warped with new ideals in a modern age.  The criminal justice system we now know has quickly become intertwined with corruption and new types of career offerings, leading to an uncertain future for many students.  However, some realms of the degree do still exist which allow forthright students to continue to parade their beliefs and fight to keep criminal justice intact.

Criminal justice degrees are typically earned in order to go into law enforcement or criminal law in general.  With this degree comes insight into the criminal mindset and a thorough understanding of what crime and justice are.  However, there have been many times that our notions of crime and criminal justice have failed, as has been demonstrated in many unfortunate death penalty cases in recent years.  New technological advances have allowed courts to view new evidence on cases that were considered closed many years ago, as the result of new DNA analysis measures and criminal defense teams who work tirelessly for their clients. 

Todd Willingham in Texas has made major headlines around the nation because of the evidence that has recently emerged to indicate that Texas may have executed an innocent man because of poor forensics analysis only a decade ago.  Tracing death penalty cases even further back, there are a slew of similar cases in which seemingly innocent people are executed because courts have refused to hear their appeals or DNA evidence emerged too late that could have pardoned them.  With the numbers of innocent convictions rapidly increasing, it has become critical to take a new look at the criminal justice system and determine what type of justice is prevailing. 

Criminal justice degrees do not teach the intricacies of ethics and morality, but they have recently required students to read various articles concerning the Guantanamo detainees and death penalty cases.  Many of these have inspired many students to go into legislative work to enact change in the justice system or become part of a criminal defense team that can work to prove the innocence of their clients.  Whatever path you take with a criminal justice degree, it is clear that the principles of the degree are changing and a new structure will be in its place. 


Finding Justice in Criminal Justice Jobs

The tide of the economy has brought many low points for business industries, but others have thrived despite the recession.  Criminal justice jobs have been one sector that has remained relatively stable; whether this is due to rising crime rates or rising technological advances in the field, it is for certain that criminal justice itself has proven to be a saving grace for many criminal justice graduates.  However, as time passes, criminal justice jobs seem to become more removed from the criminal justice aspect of the career.

Criminal justice at one point was narrowly tailored to fit the mantra of a career in law enforcement or another aspect of the criminal justice system in prosecuting the bad guys and gaining restitution for the good guys.  Since this point, criminal justice jobs have spread out far and wide, developing broad career choices that seem to have little to do with the prosecution of criminals but are still considered to be major pillars of the criminal justice system.  Furthermore, the idea of justice has been warped in recent years with increased corruption, bribery, and possible convictions of innocent people.  The question remains as to how we can find justice in criminal justice jobs now?

There have been many recent headlines in the criminal justice field, many revolving around the ever-controversial topic of the death penalty.  The case of Todd Willingham in Texas, a man who may have been innocently executed, has attracted attention around the nation, pointing a new finger at Texas’ high execution rates.  Texas has even gained recent notoriety as being the 7th highest entity in terms of executions, following countries such as China and Saudi Arabia.  The fact that we live in a democratic nation, yet states like Texas continue to pursue potentially “cruel and unusual” punishment to people who may in fact be innocent, does not seem to be a criminal justice system that upholds the notion of justice. 

There are a slew of criminal justice jobs that have been created solely to guarantee the justice of criminals and the justice of our court systems: most states have their own justice commissions to ensure the efficacy of the courts and trials.  This was not needed only a few decades ago, but has since become a major part of our justice system due to the increasing amount of realizations that many people in our prison system are completely innocent.  While law enforcement positions continue to be the main sense of criminal justice that many of us construe in thinking about jobs in the field, they have come under fire as well for different tactics and sometimes “sloppy” work in gaining convictions.

Regardless of where our criminal justice system takes us, we can all hope that it will be in the step toward justice, the way the system was originally set up. 


The Role of Forensics in Solving Crimes

One of the most important aspects of criminal justice is forensic science, or the practice of scientifically examining physical evidence collected from the scene of a crime or a person of interest in a crime. Many people consider forensic science the application of science to law enforcement.

If there are no known witnesses to a crime, sometimes forensic evidence is all prosecutors have to work with. For instance, if human remains are found dumped in a ravine and have decayed to the point where they cannot be recognized, forensic scientists use DNA from the body, examine dental work and even study the skeletal structure to determine who the person was. They use the evidence they have to narrow down possibilities and determine if the person was a male or a female. Sometimes forensic scientists can determine cause of death and if foul play may have been involved.

Two of the most common crimes that are determined in the forensic science lab are drug-related crimes and sex crimes. It is in the crime lab that the chemical makeup of an unidentified substance recovered from a suspect is determined to be cocaine, marijuana or a controlled substance. This is used as evidence in court to prove that a person was in possession of illegal drugs. Forensic toxicology can determine if a person was drunk or high behind the wheel of a car after a fatal accident, or if someone was poisoned to death. DNA evidence recovered from a victim’s body can help determine who was responsible for a physical or sexual assault. This evidence is commonly used in court to put sex offenders and child molesters behind bars, and to set innocent people free.

Weapons testing, or ballistics, is another important part of forensic science. Forensic scientists use their knowledge of ammunition and study the impact of a bullet to determine how many shots were fired, where a shooter was standing when he or she fired, and even if a victim was shot at point blank.

Forensics is also important in identifying the culprits of various cyber crimes. Databases are searched, IP addresses are traced and documents are recovered by computer forensic specialists to determine who was responsible for stealing funds electronically. This evidence is used to prove a suspect’s guilt for major white collar crime, such as Ponzi schemes, embezzlement and fraud.

Substance Abusers Need Counseling

When it comes to people who have problems with drugs and alcohol, substance abuse counselors can help. Through individual and group counseling sessions, they guide people to acknowledge their destructive behaviors and understand how their problems are a result of their addiction. Substance abuse counselors assist in the development of individualized recovery programs that are meant to equip abusers with coping skills and the re-establishment of healthy behaviors. Along with abusers themselves, counselors work with their families who are often greatly affected by their loved one’s actions. They can also develop community programs and outreaches that educate the public on the dangers of addiction and how to prevent it.

Substance abuse counselors also work with inmates, parolees, and offenders who are on probation, and provide them with assessments, training, education, and treatment. They help these offenders by reviewing, assessing, and implementing drug and alcohol screenings, as well as treatment programs. Counselors also schedule and conduct drug screenings and send the results to probation officers. And when it comes to deciding if an offender needs to continue with a drug or alcohol program, counselors provide significant input that can ensure that the right decision is made.

While the qualifications of a substance abuse counselor can vary by state, it is likely that one will need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, or social work. Those who want to be a counselor in this field would most likely find it helpful to complete course work in crisis intervention, substance abuse counseling, program evaluation, records management, and research methods. A certification in substance abuse counseling can also be earned through state addiction professional certification boards. Most of these boards require that applicants have completed some degree of education and worked a certain amount of hours in a related field. Those interested in working in the area of parole and probation will probably need to have a year or more experience working in drug treatment, or group and individual counseling.

Substance abuse counselors need to be prepared to work in dangerous environments and situations, as they work with unpredictable people who are experiencing severe problems. Work opportunities are available in hospitals, correctional institutions, mental health agencies, de-toxification centers, private practices, and addiction treatment centers. Due to the seriousness of their work and the emergencies that can occur, many of these facilities are open 24 hours a day. Counselors should be prepared to work nights, weekends, and holidays, during 40 hour work weeks.

College Entrance Exams: SAT vs. ACT

Most colleges and universities require students to have not only a high school diploma for enrollment, but also some form of standardized test scores. The most popular of these tests are the ACT and the SAT exams. When applying to colleges, many students struggle with the decision of which test to take. In reality, neither of these exams is better than the other. The decision to take one test over the other should be based on which exam is the preferred requirement for the college you intend on applying to, and which test format suits your test taking abilities best.

To begin with, the tests vary in both length of time to complete and number of questions. The SAT exam consists of 140 questions, including a mandatory essay, and lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes. The ACT exam contains 215 questions, an optional writing section and only lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes. If you are a fidgety person, can’t sit for long periods of time or can’t concentrate that long, you might consider taking the ACT test. It’s also beneficial to know that the SAT does issues a minor penalty for any wrong answers, whereas the ACT does not.

The exams also vary on the types of questions they ask. While both offer mostly multiple choice questions, the SAT attempts to ascertain the test takers problem-solving abilities and is believed to be less straightforward than the questions on the ACT, which are broader and more general knowledge based. Also, in the reading sections, the SAT primarily concentrates on vocabulary and the ACT tends toward syntax, punctuation and grammar.

According to many college admissions counselors, it might be wise for students to take both exams and submit their best scores. If students are unable to afford taking both exams, they could inquire into taking both preparatory exams through their high school or a testing agency. These scores would be a good indicators as to which test the student would do best taking. Those same college admissions counselors assure students that most colleges and universities do not discriminate between exams if they are both accepted at their school. So before you begin applying to colleges and taking your entrance exams, do the research and consider which test will be best for you. A higher test score could mean the difference between an acceptance packet and a rejection letter.