Criminal Justice Degrees Guide

Criminal Justice Careers in the Courthouse

Criminal justice careers typically seem to be set within law enforcement, but can in fact take on a wide range of potential jobs within the criminal justice system as a whole.  Many of the top ranked criminal justice jobs are found within the meat of the criminal justice system – the criminal courthouse.  Criminal justice judges, defense attorneys, prosecutors, bailiffs, process servers, and law clerks help make up the meat of the criminal justice system.  Just a peek inside this world indicates how often justice is served and to what end it can reach. 

Starting off with the center of the courthouse scene, the criminal justice judge typically holds an extensive background in the criminal justice system, usually as a former defense attorney.  This is an important aspect in the career because the criminal justice system can expose you to the most grotesque crimes or the most innocent defendants.  It is important to be able to tell the difference between the two vastly different realms of criminal justice, and a judge especially has to be able to differentiate between the two.  While many critics accuse judges of either being too lenient with their sentencing or too harsh, very few realize the important and demanding role criminal justice judges play in our society.  They are, in fact, in charge of deciding what defendants are released back into society and which ones have to be sent to prison.

The attorneys who both represent the state and the defendants are also integral parts of the criminal justice system.  Their jobs require entirely different viewpoints and opinions but also require the same background in criminal law.  It is this similarity that ties the criminal justice careers together and helps prove that the defense and prosecution are not that dissimilar from each other!  Law clerks are an additional part of the courtroom setting and can be the right-hand of the judge in many instances.  They are typically responsible for organizing the numerous cases that enter the courtroom, as well as checking any previous cases that may set a precedent for the cases at hand. 

Finally, the bailiffs and process servers who are within the courtrooms at the time of trials and hearings play a major role within the criminal justice system.  Differently from typical law enforcement officers, the bailiffs and process servers must know the rules of the court as well as the rules of criminal law.  Additionally, they must have a strong background within law enforcement so that they are able to handle any disruptions that may occur within the courtroom from any unruly defendants. 

The criminal justice system is a complex organ, with much of the decisions stemming from courtrooms and the many careers that help make the process continue to run smoothly. 


What to Expect from Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries

Criminal justice careers are fast becoming a go-to future choice for many students around the nation, as more and more opportunities open up in the industry.  Law enforcement used to be one of the only choices in the criminal justice world, as police officers and detectives helped bring criminals to justice every day, but the criminal justice system now encompasses a vast array of prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, judges, and specialists within police departments.  With increased technological advances, the positions within law enforcement offices seem to double every year as there is a constant need for renovation within the ranks.

Criminal justice used to simply entail a police officer, a lawyer, and a judge only a few decades ago.  However, as crime has become more sophisticated, law enforcement officers have had to expand and hone in on different criminal areas in order to keep up with the abundance of criminals.  As a result, students of criminal justice can now expect to have a large spectrum of options available for them to choose from upon graduation.  The many different specialties include work in forensics, homicide, law, and many other intricacies of criminal justice.  Students additionally now have the option of going on to gain higher education within criminal justice or accepting a job directly out of college.  As with most industries, higher salaries will be given along with higher degrees, but most criminal justice careers start between $50,000 to $60,000 with only a bachelor’s degree.

Law is also an important part of the criminal justice system, and with lawyers sprouting by the hundreds around the country, both criminal defense and prosecution have taken on a new face.  The criminal laws are different in every state, and it is the job of the lawyer and everyone who works for them (legal secretaries, paralegals, and clerks) to know these laws, now the case background, and any precedent relating to the case.  Because most criminals have to attend hearings and trials, lawyers and judges have become an integral part of the criminal justice system and work to free the innocent and imprison the guilty.  While many law students who start out in the public defender’s office do not get paid nearly what they should get paid, for many it is rewarding work as they help to rehabilitate and revitalize much of the criminal population. 

There are many different routes to take with criminal justice, and some may not even lead to the “nitty gritty” parts of the system, but simply to the legislative world that works to make changes within the system.  No matter what area of criminal justice you choose to pursue, it is a welcome fact that any job you take will have a direct impact on justice and preventing dangerous crimes. 

The Creation of a National Criminal Justice Commission

The United States Congress is hoping to soon pass a law that will create a National Criminal Justice Commission. This authority will have the power to review the current federal and state justice systems, conduct research into the areas of incarceration, prison administration, the impact of gang activity, mental illness and more, then offer suggestions as to the betterment of these systems and present a comprehensive report to the public. The Commission is being hailed as a much needed entity for a Justice Department that is suffering for lack of funding, overcrowding and a severe lack of consistency.

The US Department of Justice spends around $6.8 billion dollars on the prison system alone, the most expensive component of their budget just behind the FBI. That number will only increase as President Obama has already raised the DOJ’s budget by $600 million to pay for prison renovations, the hiring of more corrections officers and the construction of new facilities for the ever growing inmate population.

Overcrowded prisons and the growing number of mentally ill inmates are also major concerns of state and federal officials. It is estimated that the United States consists of 5% of the world’s population and has around 25% of the world’s prisoners. It’s also believed that the 115 federal prisons in circulation are operating at 34% above capacity and that number is growing steadily. This means poorer living conditions for inmates and dangerous work conditions for corrections officers. The federal prison system also has a history of acting as a mental health facility for many inmates. Reports show that about 16% of all adult inmates are mentally ill and require extra care.

Also, the lack of national standards for the criminal justice department means gross inconsistencies between departments and a greater chance of error from police tactics to evidence analysis. So far, over 400 inmates have been cleared of their convictions due to recent DNA testing. Enforcing a higher standard of procedure and action from all officials could less the chance of a person being wrongfully incarcerated and having to spend many years in prison for a crime they did not commit, while the real criminal remains free.

With the criminal justice system currently struggling to operate effectively, it seems as though the creation of a National Criminal Justice Commission couldn’t come at a better time. Any suggestions by the Commission to address the problems of overcrowded prison facilities, lack of sufficient funding and lack of national standards would hopefully provide states and the federal government with a clear plan of action.

Surviving Your Commute to School

The sight of slow-moving cars, bumper-to-bumper traffic conditions, and a clock that indicates you are dangerously close to being late to school can send any typically mild-mannered college student into a raging frenzy. It doesn’t matter if you commute just once a month or three times a week – driving to school can be absolutely stressful, especially if you are unused to getting up early in the morning and battling it out with the other rush hour attendees. However, there are ways that you can reduce the nightmarish factors in your commute.

Do not take the seemingly discourteous actions of other drivers as a personal attack. In fact, try to avoid the "worst case scenario" mindset altogether. Oftentimes, when a driver cuts you off or is driving too slow or too fast or committing any other slew of rush hour offenses, chances are that these actions are not done maliciously or even intentionally. For example, a driver who cut in too close to your vehicle may simply have forgotten to check his or her blind spots before making the move. Though that same driver may feel regret, he or she cannot express their apologies to you. In face-to-face interaction, someone who accidentally stumbles over your feet can quickly apologize, whether it is verbally or with brief eye contact. On the road, however, a car that makes a wrong move cannot apologize, making every wrong action seem laden with malicious intent. So take a breath and let it go the next time something small happens – the driver may feel sorry, but you just cannot tell.

The best way to avoid commuting nightmares is to make sure that you do not have to be on the road during prime traffic time. This means that you should try to pick classes that are not scheduled to where you have to fight through rush hour traffic. Being stuck in traffic is a volatile situation that typically leads to tempers flaring and wasted time. Though you may want to get all your classes out of the way in the mornings or take them all in the afternoon, remember that scheduling them this way will mean that you will have to spend a lot of time idly sitting in your car either on the way to school or back from school. To cut down on commuting nightmares, cut down on commuting time and you’ll also cut down on the chances of someone else using their criminal justice degree-earned skills to issue you a ticket.

Finally, no matter if you’re commuting during rush hour or during more free-flow conditions, be courteous to others. If someone is trying to scoot into your lane, the best thing to do is to allow them in. If more drivers were courteous, commuting as a whole would be that much more bearable.

Organization Breeds Success

An organized college student may sound like a rarity, but if you do find one, you will find a successful student. Being organized may sound like an easy task to accomplish, but it can be an exceedingly difficult one for a college-aged student. Self-discipline becomes a major factor in whether a student succeeds or fails at the university level. The stakes are higher than in high school and the structure of a college schedule is much looser. Students cannot expect the same routine day after day in college as they did in high school. The key is to figure out early on in your college career that if you are organized you are putting yourself in a better position to get the most from your experience.

One of the first things you should each semester is to sit down with the syllabi from all your courses and carefully go over the calendar provided by your professors. Pull out all the key due dates and put them on your own master calendar. This will help you get a feel for how your semester is going to unfold. You can start anticipating what might be your busier weeks and you can plan ahead. If you see that you have two 10-page papers due at the beginning of October, you can start planning to get one of them out of the way by the third week of September. A big part of organization is time management.

Keeping an orderly workspace is another crucial element of being organized. This may sound like an absolute impossibility given the state of your dorm room. However, if you can keep your desk neat to the point where you can find materials when you need them, then you are ahead of the curve. Invest in binders for each class so you are not mixing up handouts. Keep your books for each course together. At the very least, take some time one night a week to clean up your desk. You will probably unearth some important resources. Remember that if you are frantically looking for something at the last possible moment you are going to put a lot of undue stress on yourself.

Ultimately, being organized relieves some of the mountain of stress college students feel on a daily basis. Admittedly, staying organized takes some serious effort. However, the positive effects are worth taking that little extra time. You will thank yourself come exam time.

Mass Alert Systems Keeping Students Safe During Campus Emergencies

It is far too easy to see a college campus as a safe haven or a bubble which nothing could ever penetrate. However, it is an unfortunate reality that crime and catastrophe could easily make its way into the learning halls of an institution, putting the lives of students and faculty at risk. To prepare for the off chance that an emergency situation should arise – whether it is related to crime or inclement weather – many universities have implemented emergency response systems.

It is not necessarily a bad thing for students to not worry about emergency crises arising on school grounds. Scholars at a university have enough on their minds; studying for classes, completing essays, preparing for examinations and socializing are the primary concerns of a university student, as they should be. After all, if students are not preoccupied with their personal safety, that means that the environment is at least somewhat secure. Universities themselves typically have few concerns for the safety of their student bodies as well aside from having to deal with a few alcohol-fueled brawls now and then. Yet, when emergency does strike, universities are ready to spring into action.

Incidents of horrific campus violence can be contained by emergency alert systems. Such systems were already in place in most schools across the nation, but many of these systems were outdated, inefficient, and ineffective. Mass alert systems are supposed to inform every student of possible dangers, but many alert systems either only contacted some students and not others due to glitches or utilized communication channels that not all students regularly accessed. After 2007, that all changed. That year, the Virginia Tech massacre resulted in the deaths of 5 faculty members and 27 students as a lone gunman terrorized a school building. This incident sparked the rush for many universities to update and improve their mass emergency alert systems so that should a situation like that one arise again, more lives can be saved. Today, nearly every university has in place an emergency alert system that simultaneously sends out texts, phone calls, and e-mails to every student enrolled if a crisis occurs. Typically, students are required to update their contact information each year while registering for classes to ensure that the alert system has the most up-to-date information.

Now, these alert systems can advise students to stay away from certain areas, be wary, or stay off the campus completely if catastrophe breaks out.

Making Technology Work for You

As technology continues to improve, college students seem to be at the forefront of these cutting edge advancements. Take a walk around a college campus and you are bound to see students with the newest laptops, music players, and cell phones on the market. Gone are the days of students using word processors or, gasp, typewriters. It seems that within the past 15 years, the college campus has evolved technologically at a greater speed than anywhere else. While college-aged students have a better grasp of this technology because they grew up with it, the key is for students to use this technology to make them better students.

One area where technology can definitely make a difference is with research. While your library still offers books and journals that you should consult while doing research, the Internet has made so many sources available to students. Consulting online databases can open you up to a world of materials that would never have been available before. However, you need to look at these resources with a discerning eye. Just because something is published does not mean that it fits your research. Speak with a research librarian who can help you better navigate these databases. They can show you where and how to look at these materials in a timely fashion.

Your laptop is not simply the best way for you to keep in touch with friends and download your favorite music. It is an amazing educational tool. It is common for professors to require their students bring their laptops to class. This is a phenomenon of just the past five years. Having access to laptops makes for a more interactive class. Professors can post materials to their own websites and have students work with this material in class instead of having to assign it for homework and then talk about it at the next meeting.

Even your cell phone has a practical use in the classroom. If your phone has Internet access, then you can access information that is useful in the classroom setting. Teachers can conduct informal surveys with cell phones. It is amazing to consider the advancements made over such a short amount of time and how they affect life on a college campus. The one caveat is to make sure that you can balance the proper use of this technology with all of the fun, interesting uses you have for your computers and cell phones.