5 Potential Careers for Students Interested in Criminal Justice
The study of criminal justice in the United States is relatively young, and until the mid-twentieth century, the focus of such study primarily involved policing. Becoming a police officer, agent or lawyer are a few obvious choices for students interested in the field of criminal justice, but they are not the only ones. The criminal justice system encompasses agencies and organizations at the federal, state and local level -- as well as in private industry -- and opportunities are varied. Five careers you may be interested in exploring are outlined below.
1. Forensic Science Technician, Crime Scene Investigator
Forensic science technicians collect physical evidence at a crime scenes and analyze data to aid criminal investigations. They can be found both in the field and in the lab. Those working in the field are responsible for meticulously collecting, photographing and cataloguing evidence to be analyzed later. In laboratories, the evidence is evaluated using a variety of instruments and scientifically valid methods. Forensic science technicians may need to also consult with other experts such as toxicologists before drafting reports with their findings and conclusions. Depending on specialization, one person may perform all of the above duties or focus only on a certain area (biology/DNA, controlled substances). Working in labs may allow for more regular work schedules, while crime scene investigators may end up working evenings and weekends.
A bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or forensic science, as well as on-the-job training, are typically needed to become a forensic science technician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 17 percent employment growth is expected for the role, but the field is small and competition is keen as only a few new positions are added. Advancements in technology and science are key for growth in the forensic science field and some technicians may focus specifically on computer-based crimes (forensic computer examiners).
Helpful resource: American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
Criminologists are specialized sociologists who study the causes and effects of crime. Specifically, they research variables that impact when and where crimes are committed, as well as the different kinds of crimes. They can often be found in academic environments, teaching or conducting research. Therefore, interest and proficiency in research methods, design and analysis are required for success in this role. Some criminologists are employed by the government and local law enforcement agencies. Through their research, criminologists try to develop theories for the reduction and prevention of crime and, as such, their work is used by policymakers to raise awareness and help reduce crime.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree, if you want to advance as a criminologist, you may need to eventually earn a master’s degree in criminology, criminal justice, sociology or psychology and gain practical training under the supervision of a professional criminologist. Since understanding of law enforcement is vital for the role, you are encouraged to complete a relevant internship with a law enforcement agency.
Helpful resource: The American Society of Criminology (ASC).
3. Parole, Probation Officer
Ranked third among Best Social Services Jobs for 2018 by U.S. News & World Report, parole and probation officers provide services to law offenders, both while in custody and after their release. Specifically, they spend time interviewing probationers and parolees as well as their families and friends to evaluate progress and determine future courses of action. They meet with probationers and parolees using an established regular schedule and connect them with relevant resources to help with housing, substance abuse counseling, job training and job search. Depending on their focus, probation officers may work exclusively with adults or youths. An important aspect of the job can be establishing relationships with employers, educating and encouraging them to employ former prisoners. If a release agreement is violated, probation officers may have to locate the offenders and begin the process of returning them to a correctional institution.
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work or behavioral sciences, candidates are required to pass a psychological exam and a criminal background check before being hired. They also need to complete government-sponsored training -- which could last up to a year -- before being placed in a permanent position. Probation and parole officers handle heavy caseloads and may work with difficult people, which makes their role stressful and burnout possible. As such, new jobs are created regularly because of turnover and retirement rates. If you are interested in exploring the role, consider joining a social service agency as a volunteer.
Helpful resource: American Probation and Parole Association (APPA).
4. Fraud Investigator
Fraud investigators examine, investigate and analyze fraud allegations in the private and public sector and make recommendations for fraud prevention. They can be employed at the federal, state or local government levels or in financial institutions or private businesses. Fraud investigators spend much of their time in front of computers, reviewing and analyzing data and drafting reports, and they may also be asked to testify in court. They may be required to travel on a regular basis to meet with clients, witnesses and other team members. In addition, they are expected to keep up to date on developments in the field, so resources like the Fraud Magazine can be highly valuable.
Being technologically savvy, having superior knowledge of finances, possessing data analysis skills and excellent interviewing abilities are core characteristics of fraud investigators. Employers prefer to hire those with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, criminal justice, law, accounting or fraud management. Although additional certification is not required, it may increase competitiveness and boost career prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, opportunities -- especially in the health insurance world -- will be in high demand and are expected to grow.
5. Victim Advocate, Substance Abuse Counselor
Although many careers in the criminal justice field focus on investigating, studying and analyzing criminal behavior, victim advocates focus primarily on those on the receiving end of criminal behavior. Since the passing of the Victims of Crime Act in 1984, resources have increased for victim assistance programs, victim compensation and research on victims’ needs. As a victim advocate, you will offer both emotional and legal support to victims of crime, in addition to also establishing proper referrals. Due to the sensitive nature of the work, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology or social work is typically essential for success in the role. Understanding of relevant laws and experience under supervision may also be helpful. Common places of work for victim advocates include police stations, probation departments, correctional institutions, nonprofit organizations and community centers.
Substance abuse counselors are a specific group of victim advocates who help people gain necessary skills to improve their lives and live productively. In certain cases, they may be assigned to work with parolees or probationers with a court-mandated addiction treatment. Opportunities in this particular area are projected to grow 23 percent by 2026, which makes it an attractive career choice for those interested in criminal justice and social services.