A criminal justice education is ideal for someone who enjoys the intricacies of the law, has a strong sense of fairness and justice, and wants to work with their community to create a safer, more pleasant place to live.
Those seeking a criminal justice education will study laws, regulations and punishments assigned to those who have been accused of committing a crime. They will also study how crime and punishment affect society at large. Criminal justice education is a starting point for police officers, advocates, detectives, legal prosecutors and defenders, as well as other individuals interested in the pursuit of protective, legal or judicial services.
Criminal Justice Prerequisites
Those who are interested in criminal justice education and working for a law enforcement agency will need to:
- Earn a high school diploma
- Take courses in sociology, psychology, political science, public administration, history, economics, philosophy, and various types of law.
- Pass a background check free of criminal issues
- Meet rigorous physical requirements
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be at least 21 years of age and have a high school diploma in order to join a criminal justice training program.
Criminal Justice Degrees and Specializations
Most jobs in criminal justice require at least a high school diploma, although many interested in a law enforcement career earn an associate, bachelor's or master's degree in some related discipline before entering the workforce.
Police officers and detectives also must graduate from their agency's training academy and then complete a period of on-the-job training.
Criminal justice education and training depends on the career path you choose, as well as your state's requirements. In some cases, a high school diploma and passing a physical exam are required to join a training program. However, earning a criminal justice degree can give you more opportunities for advancement. Many state and local agencies require at least an associate degree for entry-level positions. A bachelor's degree can be beneficial for those who want to advance to higher levels in the field, as is a master's degree.
Criminal justice degree requirements for federal agencies include a minimum of a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and related work experience. For instance, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) requires an applicant to hold a bachelor's degree, have at least three years of related work experience and meet other criteria that set their skills apart from other law enforcement specialists, such as fluency in a foreign language. In addition, a training program must be completed, which tests both knowledge and physical ability.
Those who pursue a criminal justice education might find work in a variety of specializations. Many of these specializations require additional criminal justice training or courses with a special emphasis. Possible specializations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Police officer
- Juvenile corrections advocate
- Corrections officer
- Forensic science
- Criminal justice administration
- Law enforcement management
- Immigration enforcement
- Federal agencies
- Drug enforcement
- Park ranger
- Private security
Additional Criminal Justice Requirements
Whatever criminal justice field you enter, it's likely you'll need some kind of specialized training. Police officers must graduate from a training academy, for instance, while fish and game wardens need to have taken classes in biology and natural resources and also attend a training academy.
The training requirements for federal law enforcement agencies are even stricter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition to having a Bachelor's degree and three years of professional work experience, candidates for federal law enforcement jobs must complete intensive training at centers in Quantico, Virginia, and Glynco, Georgia.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Police and Detectives," October 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists," October 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists,"http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm#tab-6
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," Police and Sherriff's Patrol Officers, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333051.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," Correctional Officers and Jailers, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333012.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates," Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211092.htm