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Careers in Criminal Justice

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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.

Top Careers in Criminal Justice

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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.

Job Title Area Minimum Education Required* Typical Education Achieved* Number Employed in US (Higher = Better) Nat’l Average Annual Openings Average Salary
Air Marshal Homeland Security Bachelor’s 1 Bachelor’s to Master’s 3500 2 N/A $67600 3
Bailiff Legal High School High School to Bachelor’s 17730 560 $47400
Blood Spatter Analyst Forensics High School High School to Bachelor’s See Forensic Science Technician See Forensic Science Technician $65000
Border Patrol Agent Homeland Security High School Bachelor’s to Master’s 20000 4 Varies $31209 5
CIA Analyst Homeland Security Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s Classified Classified $103590
CIA Officer Homeland Security Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s Classified Classified $95000
Computer Forensics Investigator Forensics Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s N/A N/A $60590 26
Conservation Officer Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Fish and Game Warden See Fish and Game Warden $48700
Correctional Officer Corrections High School High School to Bachelor’s 427790 14300 $47410
Correctional Treatment Specialist Corrections Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 87950 2130 $55690
Court Clerk Legal High School Associate’s 130190 1480 $43490
Crime Lab Analyst Forensics High School High School to Bachelor’s See Forensic Technician See Forensic Technician $60590
Crime Scene Investigator Forensics/Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Criminal Investigator See Criminal Investigator $89300
Criminal Investigator Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 106580 2830 $53320
Criminal Law Paralegal Legal Associate’s Associate’s to Bachelor’s See Paralegal See Paralegal $52920
Customs and Border Protection Officer Homeland Security High School High School to Bachelor’s 20000 N/A $67290 6
DEA Agent Law Enforcement Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 5000 7 N/A $82100;8
Deputy Sheriff Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Police Officer See Police Officer $65400 9
Emergency Management Director Homeland Security Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 9840 190 $76250
FBI Agent Law Enforcement Bachelor’s Bachelor’s 13913 10 N/A N/A
Fire and Police Dispatcher Law Enforcement High School High School to Associate’s 98600 833 $43390
Fire Investigator Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 12290 430 $64610
First-Line Supervisor of Correctional Officers Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 42520 1530 $67600
First-Line Supervisor of Police and Detectives Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 100370 4300 $97180
Fish and Game Warden Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 6320 200 $57810
Forensic Accountant Forensics Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s N/A N/A $73560 11
Forensic Anthropologist Forensics Master’s Master’s N/A N/A $66810 12
Forensic Ballistics Expert Forensics High School High School to Bachelor’s See Forensic Science Technician See Forensic Science Technician $60090
Forensic Nurse Forensics Associate’s Associate’s to Bachelor’s N/A N/A $777300 13
Forensic Psychologist Forensics Master’s Doctorate N/A N/A $82120 14
Forensic Science Technician Forensics High School High School to Bachelor’s 14070 990 $60590
Fraud Investigator Private Sector High School High School to Bachelor’s See Private Investigator See Private Investigator $69520
Homicide Detective Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Criminal Investigator See Criminal Investigator $63380
ICE Agent Homeland Security Bachelor’s** Bachelor’s to Master’s N/A N/A $63380 15
Information Security Analyst Private Sector Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 88880 2550 $103590
Juvenile Probation Officer Corrections Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s See Probation Officer See Probation Officer $55690
Lawyer Legal Doctorate Doctorate 609930 15770 $126930
Narcotics Officer Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Police Officer See Police Officer $62960
Paralegal Legal Associate’s Associate’s to Bachelor’s 271930 8270 $52920
Parking Enforcement Officer Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 8710 280 $42070
Parole Officer Corrections Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 91300 692 $55690
Police Officer Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 653740 25840 $67290
Private Investigator Private Sector High School High School to Bachelor’s 30460 1100 $53320
Probation Officer Corrections Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 87950 2130 $55690
Secret Service Agent Homeland Security Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 3200 16 N/A $67290 17
Security Guard Private Sector High School High School to Some College 1097660 20960 $30370
Sheriff Law Enforcement High School Bachelor’s to Master’s 3080 18 Varies N/A
State Trooper Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 59390 19 See Police Officer $67290 20
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor Corrections High School High School to Master’s 87090 4110 $47660
Transit and Railroad Police Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s 4060 130 $60200
Transportation Security Screener Homeland Security High School High School 41820 660 $40960
United States Park Police Law Enforcement High School High School to Bachelor’s See Police Officer See Police Officer $67290
US Marshal Law Enforcement Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s 3738 21 N/A N/A
Victims Advocate Law Enforcement Bachelor’s Bachelor’s to Master’s N/A N/A $50000 22
Youth Correctional Counselor Corrections High School High School to Master’s See Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors See Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors $55690

Criminal Justice Career Interviews

Gary Raney
Ada County Sheriff
Michael Welner, MD
Forensic Psychiatrist
Steve Boyer
Kitsap County Sheriff
Glenn Hoff
Retired Rochester Police Department Deputy Chief
See all Criminal Justice Interviews

Exclusive CJDS Interview: Sue Rahr

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

All Degrees

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.

  1. homicide detective
  2. blood spatter analyst
  3. homeland security degree
  4. computer forensics degree
  5. how to become a fish and game warden
  6. law enforcement degree

Criminal Justice Career Centers

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.

STATESTATE

UNEMPLOYMENT

RATE (MAY 2016)1
OVERALL EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK GRADESTATE BUDGET MANAGEMENT RATING2ANNUAL CJ OPENINGS3CJDS VIEW OF STATE PROSPECTS FOR PUBLIC CJ JOBS*
US Total4.70%AverageAverage105,980Average
Alabama6.10%Below AverageGood1,130Average
Alaska6.70%PoorExcellent100Average
Arizona5.60%Below AverageBelow Average5,700Poor
Arkansas3.80%GoodAverage530Average
California5.20%AveragePoor12,140Below Average
Colorado3.40%GoodAverage1,770Below Average
Connecticut5.70%Below AveragePoor930Poor
Delaware4.10%GoodBelow AverageN/A Average
Florida4.70%AverageExcellent6,700Excellent
Georgia5.30%Below AverageGood3,650Average
Hawaii3.20%GoodPoor430Average
Idaho3.70%GoodGood470Excellent
Illinois6.40%PoorPoor2,800Poor
Indiana5.00%AverageGood840Below Average
Iowa3.90%GoodAverage500Average
Kansas3.70%GoodAverage920Average
Kentucky5.10%AveragePoor630Below Average
Louisiana6.30%PoorBelow Average1,670Below Average
Maine3.50%GoodPoor550Below Average
Maryland4.50%AveragePoor910Average
Massachusetts4.20%AveragePoor1,410Below Average
Michigan4.70%AverageBelow Average2,040Poor
Minnesota3.80%GoodAverage1,280Average
Mississippi5.80%Below AverageAverage780Average
Missouri4.30%AverageGood1,910Below Average
Montana4.20%AverageExcellent430Good
Nebraska3.00%ExcellentExcellent380Good
Nevada6.10%Below AverageGood610Good
New Hampshire2.70%ExcellentGood360Good
New Jersey4.90%AveragePoor3,150Below Average
New Mexico6.20%Below AverageBelow Average1,650Poor
New York4.70%AveragePoor91,40Average
North Carolina4.70%AverageAverage2,790Average
North Dakota3.20%GoodExcellent340Good
Ohio5.10%AverageGood1,960Average
Oklahoma4.70%AverageExcellent940Good
Oregon4.50%AverageBelow Average550Poor
Pennsylvania5.50%Below AverageBelow Average2,860Below Average
Rhode Island5.40%Below AverageBelow Average340Below Average
South Carolina5.60%Below AverageGood1,400Average
South Dakota2.50%ExcellentExcellent220Excellent
Tennessee4.10%GoodExcellent1,610Excellent
Texas4.40%AverageGood17,400Good
Utah3.80%GoodExcellent350Good
Vermont3.10%ExcellentBelow Average200Average
Virginia3.80%GoodGood3,060Good
Washington5.80%Below AverageAverage1,760Average
Washington DC5.80%Below AverageN/A730 Average
West Virginia6.20%Below AverageBelow Average190Poor
Wisconsin4.20%AverageGood1,310Average
Wyoming5.60%Below AverageExcellent150Average
  • Table Footnotes

    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.


Table Footnotes:

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

*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.

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