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Criminal Justice and Defense

National security is the first duty of government but we are also committed to reversing the substantial erosion of civil liberties.
-Theresa May

The growing attention on homeland security has created a new demand for criminal justice, security, and forensic professionals. According to a recent poll by USA Today, the field of criminal justice and corrections is among the top 10 popular college majors among undergraduates in the country. What makes this discipline different than the rest?

Why Study Criminal Justice and Defense?

  • Criminal justice and defense degrees are customizable. Master’s degrees, in particular, offer a range of tracks, and every program emphasizes practical, real-world training, whether you’re preparing for field work, office duties, or administrative management.
  • Criminal justice and defense graduates work across a wide spectrum of public and private areas. Local, state, and federal government is a popular route, of course, but many criminal justice grads pursue careers in information technology and security, nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups, business and finance, and as private contractors.
  • Criminal justice graduates make a difference. No matter their career – police officer, social worker, or forensic expert – criminal justice and defense grads make an immediate impact in their communities and organizations. Many hold top-tier leadership positions; many others do unseen but well-appreciated work on the ground level.

Types of Criminal Justice and Defense Specializations and Concentrations

  • Computer Forensics
    • Sample Course Work: Networking Fundamentals, Computer Systems, Operating Systems, Criminal Investigation, Digital Forensic Investigation Techniques, Cybercrime
  • Counterterrorism
    • Sample Course Work: Threat Assessment, Criminal Law, Religious Extremism, WMD Terrorism, Domestic Terrorism, Advanced Intelligence Collection
  • Criminology
    • Sample Course Work: White Collar Crime, Criminal Justice Administration, Criminal Justice and Public Policy, Police Problems and Practices, Juvenile Justice, Courts and Social Policy
  • Homeland Security
    • Sample Course Work: Research Process and Methods, Transportation Security, Deception Detection Techniques, Social Network Analysis, Comparative Government for Homeland Security, Technology for Homeland Security
  • Legal Studies
    • Sample Course Work: Topics in Legal Studies, Sociology, Constitutional Law, Law and Society, Law and Culture
  • Public Administration
    • Sample Course Work: Organization Theory and Practice,Administrative Leadership, Ethics in Public Service, Public Personnel Administration

Types of Jobs for Criminal Justice and Defense Graduates

Criminal justice and defense graduates work in a variety of public and private fields depending on specialization, and most jobs have a wide, fluid set of responsibilities. To give context, let’s review a few potential career paths, keeping in mind that each job may require different levels of education, work experience, and formal training.

Probation Officers

Several roles fall under this umbrella, including probation officers, parole officers, pretrial services officers, and correctional treatment specialists, all of whom have varying responsibilities. In general, they work with probationers and parolees (and, just as important, their friends and family) to ensure a smooth transition back into civil society. That means interviewing probationers and parolees to monitor progress; developing a rehabilitation strategy and career plan; (where necessary) offering substance abuse counseling and drug testing; and writing reports and maintaining case files. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is projected to grow 6% through 2026, totaling over 5,000 with a median annual salary of $50,160.

Police Officers and Detectives

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts police and detective employment to increase 7% through 2026, about the average rate, totaling 53,000 new jobs with a median annual salary of $61,600. (The category also includes criminal investigators, fish and game wardens, and other specialized police task forces.) Of course, each job varies, but generally officers combine intensive field work with administrative office work (i.e., investigations, reports, case preparation, file maintenance, etc.). Further, with the advent of new technologies, police and detectives increasingly leverage advanced tech in both everyday police work and long-term crime strategy, including for surveillance, data science and analytics, mitigation, and prevention. For higher-level detective agencies, such as the FBI and CIA, agents typically need to meet a field hours benchmark and complete additional training in a specialization. Per their respective websites, FBI agents earn about $56,000 per year, and CIA agents earn between $75,000 and $136,000.

Forensic Science Technicians

According to the BLS, occupations for forensic science technicians (including CSI professionals) are predicted to grow 17% over the next decade, twice as fast as average, with a median annual salary of $56,750. Depending on the role, forensic scientists either work in the field or lab. Field work includes evidence analysis and collection, photography, sketches, cataloging, and other investigative techniques. In the lab, forensic scientists conduct chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses to build cases. Traditionally, forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts have also fallen into this category, though those roles are starting to migrate to cyber security and defense.

Information Security Analysts

The criminal justice and defense field is hiring more information security professionals than ever, particularly in cybersecurity and cyber defense. Of course, the same could be said for every field: IS analyst jobs are projected to grow a staggering 28% through 2026, about four times faster than the national average, and make a median annual salary of $92,600. In criminal justice and defense, information security professionals monitor networks for security breaches; conduct penetration testing to find vulnerabilities; and develop and implement recovery and mitigation plans. Depending on the nature of the role, IS professionals may also act as ethical hackers, perform digital forensics, develop cryptography, and manage other information security tasks.

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors develop and implement procedures for responding to natural disasters, terror attacks, and other emergencies. In general, they work in various government agencies, but can also work in the private sector for entities like hospitals, universities, and companies with large workforces or campuses. Emergency management directors coordinate resource sharing, distribution, and use; work with public officials to assess damages; and apply for federal funding, among other responsibilities. Jobs are expected to grow 8% through 2026, and the median annual salary is approximately $70,500.

Undergraduate Degrees in Criminal Justice and Defense

The bachelor’s in Criminal Justice is the most popular degree for undergraduates pursuing a career in criminal justice, defense, law enforcement, and similar fields. Course work includes studies in criminal law and ethics, criminal investigation, corrections procedures, juvenile justice, and homeland security, among other disciplines.

Not all criminal justice professionals major in the field, however. A bachelor’s in Psychology degree is common, and for those who want to pursue a cyber defense track, several bachelor’s degrees in Information Technology include security course work.

Graduates Degrees in Criminal Justice and Defense

The obvious option is a master’s in Criminal Justice, which features advanced course work, career-oriented instruction, and the opportunity to specialize. But there are several alternative routes: master’s programs in Social Work and Substance Abuse may be helpful for parole and correctional officers. For security experts, a master’s in IT can advance your career, and military members should read our Top 25 Military Friendly Schools.

Popular Online Schools Offering Computing and Technology Degrees

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