Our society is held together by a collection of rules and regulations, and the maintenance of order requires a robust criminal justice system to interpret and enforce those rules. Criminal justice careers are among the most challenging and rewarding occupational paths out there.
Criminal Justice Careers Require the Right Degree
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Criminal Justice Career Paths
Here are just a few careers within the largest occupational fields within criminal justice, and look at typical careers within those fields.
Legal careers are those that involve the interpretation of the laws. The first occupation most people think of within the legal field is lawyer, the specialists who directly interpret the law by arguing cases for their clients. Aiding lawyers are legal assistants and paralegals, who help with a wide range of tasks, from legal research to drafting of briefs and other documents, to nearly every other duty lawyers conduct short of offering legal advice and arguing in court.
Law enforcement careers are those that deal directly with lawbreakers, seeking to either prevent crime or catch those who have perpetrated them. Police forces are the state’s official representatives in this area, and are responsible for the majority of enforcement activities. However, security guards and other private security personal also play important roles.
Corrections careers deal with those already convicted of breaking the law, helping to both punish and to rehabilitate them for eventual re-introduction to society. Corrections officers work in prisons and other facilities to oversee prisoners. Probation officers and corrections treatment specialists work those who have been incarcerated to ease their transition back into life after prison.
Salaries for Criminal Justice Careers
Legal careers can offer substantial financial rewards. Lawyers, for instance, have one of the highest average salaries of all professions tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lawyers earn a median salary of around $110,000, with the middle 50 percent earning between $74,000 and $163,000 – and attorneys specializing in corporate and tax law can earn even more than that. Legal assistants and paralegals can expect to earn between $36,000 and 59,000, with most earning near $46,000.
Law enforcement worker salaries cover a wide range of possibilities. Police officers, sheriffs, and other government employees earn between $32,000 for parking enforcement officers to over $100,000 for police chiefs. Median salary for federal police officers is $46,000; for state officers, $57,000; and for local officers, $51,000. Security guards, as they require less training, earn substantially less, with the median salary falling at around $23,000, and the middle 50 percent earning between $19,000 and 30,000 annually.
Corrections officers earn a median salary of around $38,000, with the majority earning between $29,000 and $51,000. Probation officers and correctional treatment workers generally earn slightly more as they usually require greater training and education, with a median salary of $45,000 and the majority earning between $36,000 and $60,000.
Education for Criminal Justice Careers
Lawyers must earn their bachelor’s degree and then a law degree after graduating from high school. Additionally, every lawyer must pass the bar exam in the state in which he or she wishes to practice. Paralegals and legal assistants are often required to hold at least an associate’s degree or certificate in paralegal studies, though many hold bachelor’s degrees in related fields.
Law enforcement careers generally require at least a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training. Police officers and other government enforcement officers are required to hold a diploma, and some departments require one or two years of college coursework and, in some cases, a college degree. For state and local police departments, cadets have to complete training in the agency’s police academy, often between 12 and 14 weeks in length.
Security guards usually need some form of training – particularly for armed guards, as their employers are legally responsible for any use of force. Additionally, many states require private security guards to be licensed, and receive training in a variety of areas such as protection, martial arts, first aid, and public relations.
The training required for corrections careers can vary greatly. Corrections officers have requirements similar to enforcement officials, in that a high school diploma is required, and in some cases college coursework or a degree depending on the assignment. All corrections officers must complete training at the agency’s academy as well. Probation officers and corrections treatment specialists usually hold a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, or a related field, while some specialized positions require a master’s degree.
Featured Degrees for Criminal Justice Careers
- Schools and Degree Information for Career in Criminal Justice
- Schools and Degree Information for Career in Forensics and Crime Scene Investigation
- Schools and Degree Information for Career in Courts and Reporting
Career Outlook for Criminal Justice Careers
Legal careers are expected to grow rapidly, though there will be plenty of people seeking those jobs. The employment opportunities for lawyers are expected to expand by 13%, or slightly higher than the national average, in the coming years. The need for paralegals and legal assistants is going to be even greater, with jobs in the field growing by almost 30 percent – and without anywhere near as much competition as there is for the lawyer positions.
Law enforcement careers are expected to expand as well, though not as quickly. Police employment and other government enforcement positions are expected to grow by about 10 percent – only slightly slower than the national average for all occupations. Employment opportunities for private security guards is expected to grow at a slightly faster, but still not incredible, rate of14 percent.
Corrections career outlooks vary. Corrections officer positions are expected to grow somewhat slowly, at around 9 percent. On the other hand, as more and more focus is put on rehabilitation, probation officers and correctional treatment workers will see their employment opportunities grow by nearly 20 percent in the coming years.