The Criminal Justice system comprises of the practices and interactions among various limbs of the government. The goal is to prevent and reduce crime, maintain social order, and create and enforce laws. The field of criminal justice is a multidisciplinary faction within the larger field of social sciences. Its scope and application is broad and its ramifications far reaching. The principle aim of a criminal justice degree is to give individuals an understanding of the criminal justice system and the role it plays in our society. The system is complex and involves interactions between a number of elements. It involves a dynamic interplay between legislative, adjudicative, enforcement, and penal functions. Emphasis is also placed on trying to discover how to make the system more effective.Read on to learn more about whether a career in criminal justice is for you.

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The Structure of the Criminal Justice System

In order to carry out the momentous task of maintaining social order, it is essential that agencies at varying levels of government work in conjunction to achieve this end. What is involved in maintaining social order? The essential prerequisite is stability. Therefore, in order to ensure stability, criminal and penal law needs to be examined and enforced, and trends in criminal behavior need to be predicted to deter them.

The organs of state which are commonly involved in this process include lawmaking bodies, courts, law enforcement agencies, and the penal system.

Lawmaking body

These are responsible for creating laws which determine what constitutes as criminal activity/behavior. They are also responsible for amending existing laws to better deter crime and preserve social order.


These are involved in upholding and enforcing the law through adjudication processes. They are required to objectively determine the guilt of offenders and accordingly hand them over to the penal system.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement agencies exist at the local, State, and Federal level. Their principal responsibility is to safeguard society and its citizens by upholding and enforcing the law. Their job requires them to deter, apprehend, and punish offenders.

Penal System

This system deals with those individuals who have broken the law and committed criminal offences. To safeguard society and preserve order, these individuals are incarcerated in prisons and other rehabilitation centers.

It can be seen from the number of different bodies required to uphold the criminal justice system that the field is complex and offers a large number of employment opportunities. It comprises of lawyers, police officers, law makers, probation officers, etc. It also evaluates the effectiveness of the work being carried out by these various agencies and the laws themselves to determine what can be improved to make the system more effective.

Is Criminal Justice a Good Major?

Is Criminal Justice a Good Major?

Criminal Justice careers involve the administration of justice and as such require a certain degree of interaction with a number of individuals. You may be required, depending on which area of criminal justice you choose to pursue. These usually include:

  • rehabilitate individuals and help with their transition back into society
  • Draft Laws
  • Prevent Crime
  • Investigate Crimes
  • Patrol Streets
  • Deal with Offenders

Irrespective of whichever area of criminal justice appeals to you, it is likely that before you begin your employment you will be required to:

  • submit to a background check
  • must have no previous felony charges
  • go through a medical examination
  • be drug tested
  • go through psychiatric and character evaluations

The purpose of all of these tests is to determine your suitability for the particular agency and the roles it requires to carry out. Furthermore, it is important to determine whether you will be able to uphold the reputation and integrity of the agency, as such agencies are required to carry out important and sensitive work which is directly related to the public and is therefore subject to scrutiny.

Beneficial Personality Traits & Skills

Listed below are a number of personality traits and skills which are very beneficial to have or develop when looking to pursue a career in criminal justice.

Key Personality Traits and skills

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Adaptability
  • Analytical
  • Inquisitive
  • Keen observational skills
  • Conflict resolution
  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Quick decision making

Education Requirements

Education requirements for entry into criminal justice professions will vary depending on which area of criminal justice you intend to major in or pursue. Some agencies have strict requirements and require a certain level of education and training or experience. On the other hand, some careers, such as certain law enforcement positions may not always require higher levels of education qualifications.

The curriculum of a criminal justice degree usually includes a focus on the following areas:

  • investigation techniques
  • what law enforcement entails
  • role of penal institutions
  • crime and criminology
  • judicial processes
  • criminal law
  • criminal justice ethics
  • social and behavioral sciences

There are a number of different degrees within criminal justice that you can pursue depending on your career goals. These include Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees. Furthermore, some degrees have a focus on the arts whereas others focus on sciences. Again, the degree you take will depend upon what you seek to become within the field of criminal justice

The different types of degrees include:

  1. Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
  2. Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  3. Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice
  4. Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
  5. Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration
  6. Master of Science in Criminal Justice
  7. Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Irrespective of whichever degree you intend to pursue, it is important to make sure that both the institute and program is accredited. For more information you can check the U.S Department of Education website or the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (an organization which provides certification).

Potential Careers

There are a plethora of options to pursue within the field of criminal justice. In addition to education requirements, certain facets of the criminal justice system require a certain amount of training to be completed before an individual becomes eligible to seek employment there.

Some examples of careers in criminal justice include:

  • Law enforcement officer
  • Court administrators
  • Crime scene investigators
  • Social worker
  • Security guards
  • Parole officers
  • Forensic psychology

There are others areas in criminal justice which require specialization and so additional education and experience is necessary. Candidates may be required to be proficient in the use of certain technologies and may also need to be fluent in a second language. Jobs at this level are highly competitive so it is important to do all that you can to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

These specialist branches of the criminal justice system include:

Jobs within the field of criminal justice are available in a vast number of areas and are diverse in their application. More types of jobs continue to become available as the field expands as a result of better methods of preserving social order and deterring criminal activity are discovered.

Pros and Cons

When looking to enter any profession, it is important to carefully weigh the pros and cons so as to be sure that this is the path you want to follow. This involves undertaking research to see how long you will be expected to study and if you’ll require further training. You must also get an idea of the potential career benefits (including salary) which may exist. Listed below are a few pros and cons of pursuing a career in criminal justice.

  • Dynamic field
  • Many diverse employment options
  • Opportunity to protect and maintain social order
  • Involved in the betterment and protection of society
  • Opportunities for advancement and potentially high job demand
  • Can face dangerous and uncomfortable situations in the line of duty
  • Vast differences in earning potential
  • Possibility of unstable and long hours
  • Certain jobs may require extensive additional training
  • Fierce competition for top level jobs

Job Outlook and Salary

With regards to prospective salary figures, much will depend on what branch of the field you go into. Furthermore, there are a number of factors that go into determining the average annual salary of an individual in a particular profession. These include education, training, work experience, certification, location, etc.

For those looking for a career as a teacher of criminal justice and its various disciplines or research, according to data provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary for 2020 for this profession was $63,560. The top 10% earned $129,820. For police and detectives, BLS reported an annual median salary of $67,290 per year in 2020. Lawyers on the other hand earned an annual median salary of $126,930 per year in 2020.
From the figures mentioned above, it can be seen that potential salaries vary greatly according to which area of criminal justice you intend to work in. Criminal justice is a dynamic and interdisciplinary field which relates together an understanding of criminal behavior and the mechanisms required to deter and penalize such behavior. The ultimate aim of the system is to preserve and maintain social order. If you choose to pursue a degree in criminal justice, you are likely to have a wide range of employment options available upon the completion of your degree. Much will depend on what you intend to do with your degree and which area of criminal justice you wish to work in.