20 Jobs You Can Get With a Criminal Justice Degree
What can you do with a criminal justice degree? Earning a degree in criminal justice can help you get hired for many different job opportunities within the criminal justice field. While police officers make up a large portion of the professionals working in law enforcement, there are many more career options that you may want to consider from FBI agent to computer forensic specialist. With the wide range of roles available, you can find a job that is a good fit for your unique interests, skills, talents, and salary expectations. This resource provides descriptions of 20 jobs that you can pursue with a degree in criminal justice.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the 2010 median wage for probation officers is $47,200 per year, with 18% job growth expected through 2020. Probation officers monitor parolees released from the corrections system to ensure that they abide by the terms of their probation while assisting parolees with adjusting to life after release using specialized treatment techniques. A probation officer is typically assigned a case load of parolees, with whom they interact at the parolees’ homes and places of work as well as at the office. 1 This gives probation officers the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Those interested in the criminal justice system or social work may find a career as a probation officer to be very rewarding.
Forensic Science Technician
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the annual salary of forensic science technicians at $55,660, though the average salary is higher in states with high demand for these specialists like California, Virginia, and Illinois, where the average is between $61,040 and $74,050. Aspiring forensic science technicians can get a head start on the training required for this career as early as high school with a focus on science and math curriculums,2 but by obtaining a forensic science degree, individuals can enter this exciting field at any age. Forensic science technicians work in labs, government agencies, hospitals, courtrooms, and other places where the ability to reconstruct events based on clues such as hair samples, broken material, and fingerprints is needed.2 This is an exciting career for analytical minds with an interest in science.
Demand for police officers is expected to grow by 7%, with an average annual salary of $55,010 reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Police officers are on the front line of the US criminal justice system, working not just to apprehend criminals but to prevent crime through community outreach and visible presence efforts. Every city and municipality from rural communities to metropolises like New York needs a police force, which offers job security for those accepting a position as a police officer. Successful police forces invest in a great deal of training for their officers beyond the initial degree and certification; such training includes cultural diversity awareness, legal ethics, and law enforcement technologies.3 This is a demanding and fast paced career with personal and professional growth opportunities.
Correctional officers, who work primarily within jails and prisons to supervise and assist those convicted of crimes, average a salary of $39,020 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Correctional officers are needed at the local, state, and federal levels as each judicial body maintains separate incarceration systems. Less pre-career training is needed for correctional officers than for other careers within the justice system because correctional officers receive qualification and on the job training on a regular basis to ensure their safety and that of a prison population. The focus for correctional officers in recent years has shifted from one of “guarding” prisoners to one of rehabilitating prisoners by enhancing their treatment programs while incarcerated.4 Degrees, certifications, and/or past experience in social work or criminal justice will help those interested in starting a career as a correctional officer.
While they may assist public detectives and local police forces, private detectives and investigators also take on cases in the private realm that do not involve a criminal aspect, adding variety to daily work while earning an average salary of $48,610 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Private detectives are often hired to do background checks and uncover information related to divorce cases, worker’s compensation claims, and other work similar to that of a public detective. Knowledge of forensics and the law as it applies to collecting evidence and surveillance is a must in this field,5 which is why most private detectives have a degree in criminal justice as well as some experience working as a detective or officer in the public sector.
Fish and Game Warden
For those who enjoy the outdoors and an active lifestyle, the average annual salary of a fish and game warden, estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics at $55,670, is a generous reward for enjoying what comes naturally. Fish and game wardens work in forest preserves, public waterways, national parks, and other protected recreational and conservational areas to ensure that the wildlife and habitat are protected and visitors are kept safe. Demand is highest for fish and game wardens in states with many busy parks and natural areas, such as Texas and Florida. This position uniquely combines the knowledge areas of biology and law enforcement in a challenging career,6 where certifications in criminal justice with classes in forensics or biology will be helpful.
Security guards are in demand wherever there are people or property to protect, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 18% job growth in this industry over the next eight years. Private security guards patrol the areas where they are assigned for unusual or suspicious activity and make sure that all safety guidelines enacted by their employers are enforced. Security guards work in concert with law enforcement and the armed forces to deter crime and ensure the safety of the communities in which they work.7 Many private employers in need of security guards offer training and flexible scheduling as part of this rewarding career.
State troopers work on state highways, ensuring that all state and federal vehicle laws are met. This includes well known laws such as speeding and seatbelt use, but state troopers are also responsible for enforcing lesser known laws, such as those regulating the use, size, and equipment of commercial vehicles such as semi-trucks. State troopers also assist local and federal law enforcement in searching for and apprehending wanted criminals, detecting signs of illegal activity, and preventing terrorism.8 These professionals earn roughly the same salary as other police officers, with a median wage of $55,010 reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, highly trained or experienced state troopers may command a higher salary, especially in higher risk metropolitan areas.
Crime Scene Investigator
The field of forensic science is growing as technology and new techniques put forensic science in the reach of more police departments than ever before. The demand in this field is expected to grow by 19% through 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making this a great field in which to pursue a degree. Crime scene investigators work on the field collecting evidence and in the lab analyzing that evidence to reconstruct past events, work that can support or contradict eyewitnesses – or even fill in when no eyewitnesses are available. This can identify suspects as well as prove the innocence of people wrongly accused of a crime,9 making the work of crime scene investigators indispensible to the due process of law.
Computer Forensics Specialist
Computer forensics specialists combine the specialties of forensic science, computer science, and criminal investigation. Computer forensics specialists reconstruct data and activities on electronic media rather than on crime scenes, because as technology moves forward crime is being committed more frequently with computers and electronic devices. Criminals may try to destroy electronic evidence by deleting it, hiding it, or even physically destroying it,10 which is where computer forensics specialists come in. These highly trained individuals use advanced data extraction techniques to piece together information that criminals hoped was lost, and may be called on in court to present their findings.
Fraud investigators earn an average salary of $58,460 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, thanks to their in-demand specialized skills and experience. Fraud investigators are often needed to determine whether or not a claim is true, usually after an insurance company or other party has paid for a claim. This could involve claims of property damage, personal injury, or other types of fraud such as corporate financial crimes.11 Fraud investigators gather evidence, interview the parties involved, and present their findings to the client that hired them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that health insurance fraud investigators will be in particularly high demand in coming years due to the recent federal health care legislation, making fraud investigation a strong career choice for future growth.
FBI agents have a multitude of responsibilities, as their primary task is to enforce federal law as agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For this reason, many FBI agents specialize in one area of law enforcement after graduating from new agent training. The new agent training is extremely rigorous, including nearly 1,000 hours of training in academics, case exercises, firearms training, and operations. After training, FBI agents may work against terrorism, cyber crime, civil rights violations, public corruption, organized crime, violent crime, or major thefts, following each step of an investigation through to the sentencing of a criminal. In order to become an FBI agent, applicants must have a four year degree by an accredited institution. There are five career paths that special agents can enter to start their career: Accounting, Computer Science/Information Technology, Language, Law, and Diversified. The degree obtained should match the entry path, though the FBI also maintains a list of critical skills that could help applicants obtain a position as a special agent.
Special agents for the Central Intelligence Agency help the federal government investigate violations of the law all over the world. Like domestic agents and police officers, CIA agents put their lives at risk in service to their department and community, but are more often called upon to do so covertly. This element of risk contributes to the high salary of CIA special agents, between $74,872 and $155,500 for agents based in Washington, DC, where CIA headquarters are located. However, CIA agents may be based in satellite offices in the US or abroad, as a CIA agent can be called upon for foreign travel. CIA agents collaborate with other law enforcement agencies on a regular basis by bringing a special mix of skills acquired in CIA training to the table. Those interested in becoming a CIA agent are encouraged to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a field related to law, forensics, language, or criminal justice, and acquire at least five years of experience in investigation.
US Postal Inspector
As members of the United States Postal Inspection Service, postal inspectors investigate and solve crimes related to the US mail. Such crimes include theft, vandalism, fraud, and even identity theft. Any time a crime is committed that involves the postal service, postal inspectors are likely to be involved. Postal inspectors use forensic techniques, question witnesses, and research leads in order to solve these crimes. In order to become a postal inspector, applicants must have a four year degree from an accredited college or university and a clean criminal record. Applicants who are selected receive 12 weeks of intense training at the US Postal Inspection Service Strategic Learning Services facility in Maryland.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent
Immigration and customs enforcements agents are responsible for investigating, arresting, and deporting individuals who do not have permission to be in the US To do this they must keep abreast of current policies and regulations, make recommendations or presentations to courts hearing immigration cases, and participate in special assignments, which may be covert.12 The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement division is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, which entitles enforcement agents to a range of competitive benefits including life and long term care insurance, generous vacation time, flexible work schedules, and tuition reimbursement, just to name a few. Salary is based in part on experience, but applicants with a degree in criminal justice have an advantage in entering this exciting career.
Blood Spatter Analyst
As forensic scientists, blood spatter analysts have a highly specific education in the physics, biology, and chemistry of spilled blood. This education is the basis for an average salary of $53,090 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Blood can be the most critical clue in a crime scene, but understanding how it arrived and who it belongs to can be an intense process. Blood spatter analysts visit the scene of a crime, help locate and preserve blood samples, and do in depth analysis at the lab. This analysis may include experiments to try to replicate an intriguing blood spatter pattern.13 Even small volumes of blood require an educated blood spatter analyst’s investigation, since blood patterns vary according to motion, gravity, air pressure, volume, the surface it lands on, and many other variables.13 This career is not for the faint of heart, but is a rewarding way to support the criminal justice system.
Homicide detectives support police officers and other investigative detectives with solving murders and apprehending suspects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average salary of all detectives at $55,010 per year, but because the work of a homicide detective is specialized the salary for this work is often higher. Homicide detectives must work to establish how and when a murder was committed, what the motive was, and who committed the crime.14 They will gather evidence, oversee the work of crime scene technicians, and identify and interview witnesses, sometimes years after an unsolved crime is committed; these investigations are sometimes called cold cases.15 The nature of this work makes the career of a homicide detective a stressful one, but through their work homicide detectives are able to make a real difference in the communities in which they live.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents, known as DEA agents for short, work for the US Justice Department to enforce the drug laws of the United States. Salaries for DEA agents depend on education and experience, but a starting salary of $49,746 is average, which can increase to $92,592 or more after four years of working in the field. DEA agents investigate, track, arrest, and dismantle drug traffickers and their organizations through overt and covert operations. To excel in the competitive application process, the DEA recommends that applicants have a bachelor’s degree with a focus in criminal justice, police science, or foreign languages, although other bachelor’s degrees can help applicants succeed. Successful applicants receive 18 weeks of Basic Agent Training at the DEA Training Academy, and may receive other ongoing training opportunities. DEA agents must also be in excellent physical condition.
Secret Service Agent
Although the US Secret Service is typically thought of as the service that protects the President and other high level officials, Secret Service agents actually do much more. The Secret Service is tasked with protecting the integrity of the United States’ financial systems by thwarting cyber attacks on banking systems, identifying and removing counterfeit currency from circulation, and investigating, arresting, and prosecuting criminals who break the laws intended to protect our nation’s financial security. The Secret Service is also involved with crimes such as computer and telecommunications fraud and document forgery. Due to the nature of the work, the Secret Service expects agents to be willing to travel frequently, have a bachelor’s degree preferably with a focus related to the work of the Secret Service, and be in excellent physical condition. In return, agents receive comprehensive government benefits with a starting salary around $49,746 (GL-7), though this may be higher depending on an individual’s qualifications.
US Marshals transport, manage, and protect prisoners and federal witnesses; arrest wanted criminals; and administer the Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Program, which seizes and sells assets purchased with illegally obtained money to compensate victims and fund law enforcement programs. As members of the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency, US Marshals also provide protection to judges, attorneys, and jurors in high profile or potentially dangerous court cases. What they are best known for, however, is apprehending fugitives from the law; in 2010, the US Marshals arrested over 36,000 fugitive felons – that’s almost 100 a day. To become a part of this fast paced career, individuals should have a bachelor’s degree or a combination of education and experience to meet the government’s GL-07 level classification. Education in police work, criminal justice, foreign languages, or law will help applicants gain an edge.
Bachelors Degrees from Accredited Online Criminal Justice Schools
University of Phoenix
- B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration/Human Services for Criminal Justice
- B.S in Criminal Justice Administration/Cybercrimes
- B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration - Human Services
- BS - Criminal Justice
- Criminal Justice, BA
- Legal Studies, BA (Online)
- Criminal Justice, AA
- B.S. in Human Services - Criminal Justice
- B.S. in Criminal Justice - Crime and Criminals
- B.S. in Criminal Justice
- BS - Criminal Justice
- BS - Homeland Security
Colorado Technical University Online
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Human Services
American InterContinental University Online
- Bachelor's - Corrections and Case Management
- Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice - Law Enforcement
- Bachelor's - Homeland Security and Crisis Management
1. Siegel, Larry J. Introduction to Criminal Justice. 12th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2010.
2. Echaore-McDavid, Susan and Richard A. McDavid. Career Opportunities in Forensic Science. New York: Ferguson, 2008.
3. Glenn, Russell W., et al. Training the Twenty-first Century Police Officer. Santa Monica: Rand Public Safety and Justice, 2003.
4. Josi, Don A. and Dale K. Sechrest. The Changing Career of the Correctional Officer: Policy Implications for the 21st Century. Woburn: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1998.
5. McMahon, Rory J. Practical Handbook for Private Investigators. Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC, 2001.
6. Grosz, Terry. Wildlife Wars: The Life and Times of a Fish and Game Warden. Boulder: Johnson Books, 1999.
7. Jaquish, Michael. The Role of the Security Officer. Gig Harbor: Michael James Jaquish and Security Training Services International, 2006.
8. Olsen, Marilyn. State Trooper: America’s State Troopers and Highway Patrolmen. Paducah: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.
9. Fisher, Barry A.J. Techniques of Crime Scene Investigation. 7th ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press LLC, 2005.
10. Kruse, Warren G. II and Jay G. Heiser. Computer Forensics: Incident Response Essentials. Crawfordsville: Lucent Technologies, 2010.
11. Pedneault, Stephen. Anatomy of a Fraud Investigation. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2010.
12. Sherman, Michael D. et al. U.S. Customs: A Practitioner’s Guide to Principles, Processes, and Procedures. Chicago: American Bar Association, 2009.
13. Bevel, Tom and Ross M. Gardner. Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: With an Introduction to Crime Scene Reconstruction. 3rd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2008.
14. Miletich, John J. Homicide Investigation: An Introduction. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.
15. Walton, Richard H. Cold Case Homicides: Practical Investigation Techniques. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2006.
Page Edited by Charles Sipe