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Whether you want to advance your criminal justice career or find a new job in the field, this page can help guide your research. It features educational requirements, salary information, job availability, an employment outlook table, and links to dozens of interviews, including exclusive videos with former King County Sheriff, Sue Rahr, and current Ada County Sheriff, Gary Raney.
Criminal justice careers are found at the federal, state, county, and local levels, as well as in the private sector. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2020, roughly 3 million workers were employed in the criminal justice field. And, the average annual wage for a criminal justice employee was about $52,220 as of May 2020. This broader field includes subfields such as law enforcement, corrections, forensic science, homeland security, private security, academia, and legal services. Nearly 75 career profiles are featured in this guide that fall under the aforementioned broad categories.
Careers in criminal justice are found at the federal, state, county, and local levels, as well as in the private sector. According to the BLS, as of 2020, roughly 3 million workers were employed in the criminal justice field. This broader field includes subfields such as law enforcement, corrections, forensic science, homeland security, private security, academia, and legal services.
What is Criminal Justice?
The term criminal justice refers to the laws, rules, and agencies that are responsible for holding criminals accountable for actions that are against the law. The criminal justice system is made up of institutions and government agencies, including the FBI, other federal agencies, local, state, and federal courts, prisons, and the local and state police forces. The goal of the system is to identify crimes and the criminals who commit them. Within this system, criminals are tried, detained, and punished for breaking the law.
If you are interested in learning about the different components of the criminal justice system and how it works, then you may be interested in studying criminal justice. Or, if you are passionate about protecting laws and ensuring that criminals are held accountable for their actions — or if you plan to attend law school one day — then studying criminal justice may be right for you.
Working in a field like criminal justice requires you to have a wide variety of skills, as there are many job duties you will take on in a role in this field. A few of the skills that are relevant for a degree in criminal justice include strong verbal and written communication skills, an ability to research, excellent computer knowledge, and the ability to collaborate with other departments or agencies as well as the general public.
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Research Criminal Justice Careers
The following sortable table will help you compare education requirements, salary, and job availability for dozens of careers you can pursue in the criminal justice field based on 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other trusted sources. For instance, you can learn what an FBI agent salary is or find out the answer to the question of, “What is a paralegal?” below. You can also take a look at our guide for the best criminal justice jobs.
While jobs in the criminal justice and police fields have been historically reserved for men, women in law enforcement are becoming more and more common, as are females in the criminal justice field as a whole. In 2013, the FBI released data showing that nationwide, women represented about a quarter of all law enforcement employees and just over 10% of law enforcement officers.1 Not surprisingly, women represent more civilian roles in law enforcement, with the same data reporting that women occupy nearly 40% of civilian roles in law enforcement.1
Sue Rahr was the first woman sheriff of King County and served in this role for seven years, leading 1,000 employees and handling an operating budget of over $150 million. Since her success as sheriff, Rahr has transitioned into key training and thought leadership roles for the Department. Below is our entire interview with Sue Rahr, former King County Sheriff. Enjoy!
Criminal Justice Careers Salary and Outlook
The criminal justice career sector is one of the fastest growing in the United States. Across the nation, there is a continued, heightened focus on law enforcement, immigration, public safety, and security, which has created a high demand. This growth is continuing into the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that police and detective employment will grow 5% through 2029. The bottom line: entry-level and high-paying criminal justice jobs are available now and into the future.
Criminal justice salaries vary widely based on the criminal justice career that you choose. In 2020, for example, police officers and detectives earned a median salary of $67,290, forensic science technicians made a median salary of $60,590 per year, paralegals, and legal assistants earned a median of $52,920, and corrections officers and bailiffs made $47,440 as a median salary nationwide.2,3,4,5 Additional factors that will contribute to the salary of jobs in criminal justice include education level, experience, and location. Entry level criminal justice jobs will typically pay less than mid-level criminal justice careers.
Colleges and universities offer a number of criminal justice degrees and training programs, several of them designed specifically for working professionals. You can conveniently obtain education through online programs, which provide specialized training and education at your fingertips – complete your classes online, at your own pace, and graduate with the knowledge you need to begin your criminal justice job search or advance your criminal justice career.
CJDS FACT: Cybersecurity is an in-demand position at the Homeland Security Department, which developed Cyber Storm, the Department of Homeland Security’s biennial exercise series. Cyber Storm provides the framework for the most extensive government-sponsored cybersecurity exercise of its kind and is designed to strengthen cyber preparedness in the public and private sectors.
Top Related Degrees for a Career in Criminal Justice
Top 6 Trending Career-Related Criminal Justice Search Phrases
The following career-related search phrases were our top six. What does this mean? It means that these six search phrases are hot right now for our users – individuals who are looking to start or advance their careers in criminal justice.
Visit our criminal justice career centers below to learn all about specific careers in criminal justice and access our free informational resource pages. The following career fields offer promising job prospects, competitive pay, and are popular areas of study for criminal justice college students.
Police Officer Career Center
Learn about the typical path to becoming a police officer as well as possible exceptions for previous experience. Research popular degrees that can help you get started in your law enforcement career. Visit law enforcement career pages from Homicide Detective to State Trooper to get an idea of what type of law enforcement career most interests you and how you might best approach the career. Read our Best Police Career Advice article, which features Q&A from 35 respected law enforcement officials. We have 17+ law enforcement interviews with sheriffs, FBI and forensics specialists, and gang investigators. This career center features police department requirements by popular metro areas, State Trooper requirements, the top police blogs and more. Visit the Police Officer Degree and Career Center if you think a career in law enforcement is up your alley.
Homeland Security Career Center
The Department of Homeland Security was created after 9/11 with the mission of protecting the country’s citizens from domestic and foreign attacks. The Homeland Security Career Center gives you more insight into this powerful government department and what career opportunities exist within. We specifically call out the divisions around the country that often lead to opportunities within the department (such as Immigration Enforcement, US Customs, and Border Enforcement), degrees that could be helpful for entrance into those careers, and schools that offer said programs. The Career Center discusses salary and benefits, career outlook, as well as related articles and the Top Homeland Security Blogs. Visit the Homeland Security Career Center to learn more.
Forensics Degree and Career Center
Learn about what it takes to start a career in Forensics. This career center has information on all the leading forensics career profiles like computer forensics, forensic accounting, forensic nursing, forensic psychology, and forensic science technician. Each career profile also features related degrees from top schools offering programs in that field. Want to know more about forensic psychology? Read our exclusive interview with forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner, MD, our other forensics articles, or visit the some of the forensic blogs we’ve compiled in our Top Forensics Blogs list. Visit the Forensics Degree and Career Center for more information about a forensics career.
Corrections Career Center
Interested in a career or degree in the field of Corrections? Read about criminal justice careers that fall under the Corrections umbrella. Careers like prison warden, substance abuse counselor, and forensic psychologist are featured – as well as more obvious ones such as correctional case manager, youth correctional officer, and many more. There are links to more than a dozen corrections-related articles, an in-depth interview on the state of California’s prisons, and a Q&A video clip with Sheriff Gary Raney. Visit the Corrections Degree and Career Center for more.
Criminal Justice Employment Outlook by State
CJDS’ view on employment outlook is confident overall1,2 and consistent with the viewpoint of former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, who noted in our recent interview with her that now is the best time to pursue a career in criminal justice and law enforcement. The economy is improving and the baby boomer generation is aging. A mass of retirements is pending from the hiring binge in the early 80s. As those events come together, those pursuing degrees in the criminal justice field will now have ample opportunities upon graduation.
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/lau/ 2. Mercatus Center, George Mason University, Ranking the States by Fiscal Condition 2016 Edition: https://www.mercatus.org/statefiscalrankings 3. Projections Central Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm 4. TED: The Economics Daily: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/unemployment-rates-up-in-40-states-and-d-c-from-march-2020-to-march-2021.htm *The Criminal Justice Degree Schools Criminal Justice Employment Outlook by State calculations weigh data from a multitude of sources and trends including state-level unemployment, state fiscal ratings, and annual public criminal justice openings compared to state population ratios to arrive at our view of prospects for public sector CJ jobs. Government budgets for operations and hiring and demographic-related factors drive hiring in criminal justice. There are many trends in play such as how the aging population will increase turnover in areas like law enforcement as baby boomers retire. Also, the stronger a state’s budget management, the more likely they can fund public programs. The overall outlook story varies dramatically state-by-state. We did not drill down into local areas and these can vary dramatically as well. The analysis is just one point of many anyone should consider in weighing an education or career decision.
*The Criminal Justice Degree Schools Criminal Justice Employment Outlook by State calculations weigh data from a multitude of sources and trends including state-level unemployment, state fiscal ratings, and annual public criminal justice openings compared to state population ratios to arrive at our view of prospects for public sector CJ jobs. Government budgets for operations and hiring and demographic-related factors drive hiring in criminal justice. There are many trends in play such as how the aging population will increase turnover in areas like law enforcement as baby boomers retire. Also, the stronger a state’s budget management, the more likely they can fund public programs. The overall outlook story varies dramatically state-by-state. We did not drill down into local areas and these can vary dramatically as well. The analysis is just one point of many anyone should consider in weighing an education or career decision.