What is Criminal Justice?

The term criminal justice is a broad description of the institutions, laws and behaviors associated with the commission of a crime. In biblical times, criminal justice was described as ‘an eye for an eye’ where the punishment for a crime such as stealing was to cut off the hand of the thief with little fanfare beforehand. Thankfully, we have moved on from the literal version of justice in the Bible to a more nuanced and fair approach when it comes to those who break the law. There are professionals on either side of the bench to help with the process of doling out justice. Representation is equal on the side of the accuser and the one being accused, and there are a myriad of individuals and institutions in between the two to ensure the wheels of justice keep rolling smoothly. 

Why a career in criminal justice?

Movies, television shows, podcasts and other media are fueled by the public’s fascination with true crime. Television shows that focus on specific areas of law enforcement such as profiling, forensics and investigation often last for years and the fan base is always clamoring for more. Streaming services such as Netflix have created a niche for themselves with crime documentaries that detail actual criminal cases and the investigations that follow. North America is obsessed with crime and the colorful cast of characters that make up our infamous criminals. The field is fascinating with many different areas of learning such as:

  1. Terrorism and counterterrorism

Learn about the political and social characteristics of terrorism and the various types of threats at home and abroad.

  • Victimology

Learn how factors such as gender, race, background and socioeconomic circumstances all shape victimology.

  • Criminology

Study crime as abnormal or deviant behavior and learn how beliefs have evolved.

  • Police administration

Learn how different police units require specific organizational systems. 

  • Comparative justice

Learn the differences in the criminal justice systems in different parts of the world and how these philosophies were formed.

  • Juvenile justice

Explore how young offenders are treated in the judicial system and what environmental and other factors lead to a young person breaking the law. Create plans to lower or eliminate recidivism in young people.

  • Crisis management

Learn how to avoid a crisis and manage and recover from a crisis. Explore different responses to critical situations. 

A degree in criminal justice doesn’t automatically mean a career as a police officer. A Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice opens up many doors in all areas of law enforcement including work as a Crime Scene Investigator and Fish and Game Warden. Whether your interests lie in catching criminals on the street or investigating the crime after the fact, a degree in criminal justice will provide you with numerous opportunities to explore. 

Other exciting careers available with a degree in criminal justice include:

US Marshal

  • Search for and catch federal fugitives
  • Protect federal judges and other members of the judiciary
  • Sell assets from search and seizures
  • Manage witness security
  • Transport federal prisoners

Fish and Game Warden

  • Uphold and enforce laws in relation to fishing, boating and hunting
  • Patrol natural areas 
  • Investigate wildlife complaints
  • Protect the local wildlife 

Correctional Officer

  • Work with inmates in correctional institutions and jails
  • Protect inmates
  • Earnings of over $48,000 in 2021
  • 7% job growth by the year 2030

Police Officer

  • Maintain law and order
  • Protect the community
  • Detect and solve crimes
  • Build trust in the community
  • Earnings of over $66,000 in 2021
  • 7% job growth by the year 2030

Private Investigator

  • Investigate personal and financial matters
  • Search for information relating to people’s backgrounds and criminal histories
  • Earnings of over $59,000 in 2021
  • 13% job growth by the year 2030
  • Job growth for PIs is much higher than average

Crime Scene Investigator

  • Investigate forensic evidence at crime scenes
  • Identify and collect evidence for use in prosecution
  • Earnings of over $62,000 in 2021
  • 16% job growth by the year 2030
  • Job growth for CSIs is much higher than average

Forensic Science Technician

  • Collecting evidence at crime scenes
  • Assist law enforcement with investigations
  • Earnings of over $62,000 in 2021
  • 16% job growth by the year 2030
  • Job growth for FSTs is much higher than average

Probation Officer

  • Monitor convicted offenders who are on parole or probation
  • Protect the community by regularly following up with offenders who are not incarcerated
  • Earnings of $60,000 in 2021
  • 4% job growth by the year 2030

FBI Agent

  • Monitor foreign threats
  • Analyze data
  • Investigate suspicious online activities
  • Collect evidence in investigations
  • Make arrests

Secret Service Agent

  • Protect high-ranking officials and visiting dignitaries
  • Investigate financial crimes
  • Coordinate with local law enforcement to ensure effective security

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent

  • Protect the country from illegal immigration that could cause a security threat
  • Help immigrants land and enter the country safely until they can be processed properly

How to enroll

There are many interesting and rewarding career paths for someone with a degree in criminal justice and obtaining a bachelor’s degree can increase your chances of filling any of those positions. Careers in criminal justice are growing in demand and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is steady growth in most aspects of law enforcement, with robust growth in areas of forensics and crime scene investigation. You don’t need to have special post-secondary education or a high GPA to enroll in this program, you just need a GED, a completed application form and any post-secondary transcripts you might have to see if you are eligible for extra credits. 

An online criminal justice degree such as the one offered by Central Christian College of Kansas (CCCK) is tailored to fit into anyone’s schedule. Their online courses are six weeks long and you are able to get credit for previous post-secondary education or experience in law enforcement as well as apply for financial aid. The online education industry has grown exponentially, especially due to the need for most of the population to stay at home and work during the lockdown. Employers are realizing that their workforce can get just as much done off-site as they would sitting in an office. This holds true for education as well. 

Benefits of getting your degree online

A large percentage of students who pursue a degree online already have jobs or careers they can’t afford to take time off from. The pursuit of continuing education used to consist of students leaving their families to take classes at night after working a full day. This kind of schedule could be grueling and would cut into the time an individual had for relaxation and quality home time. Late nights, assignment deadlines and extra traveling all made pursuing a new career very difficult for adults who had financial and familial obligations. Online courses make this situation much more manageable and the benefits of getting your degree online can be seen here:

Flexible schedules 

Plan your study time to fit your work and life schedules, so you don’t feel the pressure of getting to a class on time and missing out on a recital or baseball game. The flexibility of online learning gives you the option of choosing when you study and when you do everything else. If your online courses will benefit your current employer, you may also want to see if there are any accommodations that can be made for assignments and courses during the workday. Some businesses will pay your way through school if they feel that the investment in your education will benefit their organization in the long term.

Learn at your own pace

The best thing about online studying is having the materials right in front of you so that you can refer back to them whenever you need to. Rather than sitting in a lecture hall and recording your instructor, online learning provides you with the time and opportunity to take in the lesson at your own pace, so you fully understand it. There are many different issues that compete to take up our thoughts, so having a few extra minutes to let a concept sink in is beneficial for both learning and retention.

More effective time management

Time management is a phrase you hear everywhere, especially when you are applying for a position in your field. Employers want to know how you manage your time and if you do it effectively. Proper time management skills will also be useful in private practice where you have added responsibilities. The best way to create a plan that is effective is to write out how you spend your time and how long certain tasks take. This will give you a good indication of whether you are budgeting too much time for a task or too little. Another aspect of good time management is learning how to mitigate the risk of falling short on time when you have an important assignment due. When you pay attention to how long certain activities take, you can prioritize your workload more efficiently, so when you need an extra hour in the day, you can adjust your schedule easily and make it work.

Several ways to manage your time more effectively especially when you are trying to balance a job and an online degree include:

  • Pick the right program

If the program you want to enroll in is going to require a lot of your time in on-site shadowing, travel or complex assignments, then you might want to choose a similar program with a more flexible workload.

  • Manage your time

As previously mentioned, this is one of the most important aspects of online learning effectively when you have other responsibilities such as a full-time job and family.

  • Apply coursework to your job

Hopefully you are already working in an area that is similar to the field you want to enter, so try to incorporate some of the assignments into your daily work to save some time.

  • Take some time for yourself

Burning out is a real problem when you wear yourself too thin. Take the time to read a good blog, play with your kids, go for a walk, or any other activity that will let you forget the tasks at hand for an hour. You will come back refreshed and full of renewed vigor.

  • Ask for help from friends and family

Look to your network and explain your situation. No one is an island and chances are someone in your network knows exactly what you are going through. See if a friend can take the kids to the park or have a neighbor walk your dog. You will find people are very receptive when you are sincere about your needs.

  • Keep your goal top of mind

It is easy to get discouraged and feel overwhelmed by the huge undertaking you have embarked on. Talk to other people in the same position and re-evaluate why you chose this path in the first place. It helps to write down your future goals and review them once a day to help keep you motivated.

Demonstrate the motivation for independent learning

It is easy to forget that all the skills you are building are just part of everyday life and have no bearing on future positions. These skills are called transferable skills and can be applied to any position you apply for. If you are managing your own time to get a degree in criminal justice and you plan out your day, get your assignments in on time, communicate with your instructor online and adjust your work to reflect the ideas given to you, those are all transferable skills. They may be called another name such as time management, ability to meet deadlines, acceptance of feedback and collaboration with others. 

Collaborate and communicate online more effectively

The world has changed for good and online learning and working are here to stay. More companies are realizing the benefits of having an online workforce to save money on office space and travelling expenses. The need to meet in person still exists but can be done in a rented meeting room or banquet hall. When you collaborate with your instructor on assignments and perform activities such as file-sharing and tracking changes in documents, you are building skills that will be invaluable in this new work environment. Chances are you are also using software applications that are the same or similar to those found on the market, so you won’t need a lot of training, which is also a bonus to a business or organization. 

Broad range of perspectives

Online learning allows people from all over the world to join in the conversation and lend their unique perspectives to the topic at hand. When it comes to criminal justice, you will find that there are different opinions from other cultures and ethnicities. Sharing these ideas online will help you see the topic in many different ways and help you grow as a student and a professional. In law enforcement, understanding different points of view is crucial in earning the trust of the community you serve and the colleagues you work with.

Enhanced critical thinking skills

Any work environment needs their workforce to use critical thinking skills in one form or another. In the criminal justice system, critical thinking is a skill you will develop and use every day. Online critical thinking is a different set of muscles than those you use in a personal environment and the ability to put forth your thoughts and ideas effectively using an electronic medium will set you apart from the rest of the applicants. 

Technical skills

The use of technology may become second nature to you to the point where you don’t feel it is a skill at all, but a part of your personality. Have you ever heard the saying ‘you don’t know what you know’? Technical abilities fall into this category of strengths you take for granted that other people don’t possess. Make a list of everything technical you do all day. All the programs you use and activities you do with those programs add up to a highly sought-after, technically savvy individual. 

Getting your degree online offers so many benefits that don’t just affect your day-to-day life but your future career. Not only does getting your degree online help you with your educational goals, but it also teaches virtual skills that are crucial in today’s workplace. Skills such as file-sharing and online presentation skills will put you at the top of the list for positions that are available in your current organization or elsewhere. Learning how to manage your time and pinpoint certain areas of risk so you can develop a plan to mitigate that risk is a crucial skill in any criminal justice endeavor. 

The opportunities are out there and the means to getting your degree in criminal justice have never been more accessible. Take some time to look at organizations that offer these dynamic courses online and see what really interests you. Research the different areas you can apply your degree and determine if you will need additional training or another degree. With the flexibility and affordability of online learning, the dream you have of a career in criminal justice can become a reality.

Stefani

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