A Brief Survey of Criminal Justice Careers
Criminal justice careers encompass a wide variety of potential employments. Among the many possible careers are probation and parole officers, lawyers and law enforcement officers as well as private investigators, forensic scientists and paralegals, just to name a few. As the population continues to increase, the need for workers within the criminal justice field continues to rise as well, making a career within the criminal justice field one of the more secure career choices for the foreseeable future. Another draw of criminal justice is the range of education and training that is required to enter the discipline. Some occupations within the field require little formal qualifications while others require years of post-secondary education. Regardless of which aspect of the criminal justice field you choose to focus on, the possibility of advancement is generally good due to the anticipated growth in the field over the years to come. Now let’s consider some of the criminal justice careers, and the paths one would take to enter them.
Law Enforcement Officer: Law enforcement officers can work at the local, state or federal level. The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, says the job outlook for law enforcement officers is expected to be favorable for the immediate future. Positions with local law enforcement will be easier to obtain due to the fact that positions at the federal level are expected to be more competitive. A career in law enforcement at any level involves irregular working hours and dangerous working conditions. As of 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the median income for a police officer or sheriff’s deputy was $51,410. Wages for detectives, supervisors and federal law enforcement officers tend to be higher. Most law enforcement positions also come with above average benefits. Many entry-level positions with local law enforcement require only a high school diploma; however, state and federal positions frequently require some college credit or completion of a bachelor’s degree. In all cases, a clean background is essential as well as a lengthy period of training. Among the criminal justice careers, a law enforcement officer will need to complete training at a law enforcement academy. Some departments provide the training after the applicant is hired while others require the applicant to complete the training first at a local college or training facility and then apply for a position.
Probation or Parole Officer: Probation officers are hugely important part of the criminal justice careers structure. They typically supervise people who have been convicted of a crime at the local level and either served a very short period of incarceration in the county jail followed by a term of probation, or were sentenced to a suspended sentence along with a term of probation. A parole officer supervises individuals who served time in a state or federal correctional facility and are now required to serve a term of supervision after their entry back into society. The job outlook for employment as a probation or parole officer is expected to be better than normal over the coming years in part due to policies such as mandatory sentences and sentencing guidelines. The medium wage for a probation or parole officer as of 2008 was $45,490. Most probation and parole officers also enjoy an above-average benefits package as they are considered government employees. In most cases, a probation or parole officer position requires the applicant to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work, psychology, or a closely related field. In addition, a period of on the job training will likely be required once employment within the position begins.
Private Detectives and Investigators: A private detective may work for a company, an individual or even an attorney. A private detective or investigator is charged with locating information relevant to a criminal or civil case that is involved in litigation, a personal matter, or a company concern. The BLS indicates that a faster than normal job growth is expected in the field of private detectives and investigators in the near future, but considerable competition is also expected for available positions. The median salary for a private detective or investor was $41,760 as of 2008; however, because of the wide variety of options within the filed, salary range is more extreme than in some other criminal justice positions. Because many private detectives or investigators are self-employed, or work for a small agency, benefits are not typically offered, or are not as extensive as some other positions within the criminal justice fields. Post-secondary education is typically not required for a position as a private investigator or detective, yet many individuals in the field do have post-secondary degrees in areas such as criminal justice, psychology, information technology, business or even law or accounting. Many private investigators and detectives also have extensive experience in law enforcement before entering the field of private investigation. In addition, most states require a private detective to be licensed. Licensing requirements, however, differ significantly among the states. State licensing requirements for carrying a handgun may also apply. This employment is important in the overall criminal justice careers assessment.
Attorney: An attorney within criminal justice careers may work as a public defender or prosecutor at the state or federal level, or may work as a defense attorney in private practice. As a prosecutor, an attorney will be charged with understanding and applying criminal statutes in order to prosecute individuals charged with a crime. As a public defender or private defense attorney, an attorney must also understand criminal statutes and case law in order to provide a defense for individuals charged with a crime. According to the BLS, job growth for attorneys in general is expected to be average with considerable competition; however, because the area of criminal justice as a whole is expected to grow over the coming years, positions for attorneys within the criminal justice field may see higher than average growth. The median salary for attorneys as a whole was $110, 590 as of 2008. Attorneys working within the state government will typically earn less than the median, while those working at the federal level will earn slightly more than those working at the state level. Attorneys in private practice have the potential to earn considerably more than the median salary. Formal education requirements for an attorney include a bachelor’s degree as well as three years of law school. Although any undergraduate degree is considered for entrance into law school, majors such as criminal justice, political science, psychology and business are popular choices. In addition, an attorney must pass a state bar examination and submit to a thorough background investigation before becoming licensed to practice law within a state.
Forensic Science Technician: Forensic science technicians enter into criminal justice careers to collect and analyze physical evidence as it pertains to a criminal prosecution or an ongoing investigation. Local, state or federal governments employ the majority of forensic science technicians. Traditionally, a forensic science technician worked with tangible evidence such as blood, hair and fibers; however, in the digital age, forensic science technicians are increasingly needed to locate and analyze intangible, electronic evidence as well. A forensic science technician may be called upon to locate and reconstruct deleted computer files for example. This area of forensic science, in particular, is expected to grow faster than average during the next decade. A forensic science technician made a median salary of $51,570 as of 2008. Because most forensic science technicians work for the government, benefits are frequently above average. Formal education past high school is generally required. Most positions require at least an associate’s degree, with many requiring a bachelor’s degree, in biology, physics, chemistry or a closely related area of study. A four-year degree in information technology may also qualify for a position that focuses on analyzing digital and electronic evidence. Supervisory positions, or positions with additional responsibilities and income, often necessitate a master’s or doctoral degree.
Paralegal: A paralegal, or legal assistant, may work for an attorney, a state or federal government, or the legal department within a corporation. In any event he too is a vital part of the criminal justice careers structure. The job of a paralegal often encompasses many of the tasks of a traditional secretary, but frequently includes additional duties as well. A paralegal may complete legal research, draft correspondence and memorandums, communicate with clients, and accompany the attorney to meetings or court appearances. The job outlook for a paralegal is expected to be above average for the foreseeable future according to the BLS. As of 2008, the median salary for a paralegal was $46,140. Paralegals working for a government office may enjoy a considerable benefits package as well. Those employed outside of the government may receive little in the way of benefits, or may also have a generous benefits package, depending on factors such as geographic location, size of the company and experience. The educational requirements for a paralegal can vary somewhat; however, the trend is to require more formal education than in years past. Most employers want a paralegal to have at least a two-year associated degree in paralegal studies. Shorter certification programs are also offered in paralegal studies by many community colleges. Many employers, however, now prefer a four-year bachelor’s degree, which may also provide a better chance of advancement, and an increase in salary.
Court Reporter or Clerk: Court reporters are charged with creating verbatim transcripts of everything that happens in the courtroom, or at depositions taken outside the courtroom. Traditionally, court reporters worked with a stenograph machine to create a court record; however, the modern trend is for the court to digitally record court sessions and for the court reporter to transcribe off the digital audio recordings. Court clerks typically handle administrative tasks for a court such as docketing cases, filing and ensuring that the court runs smoothly. The job outlook for court reporters and court clerks is expected to be better than average over the coming years. As of 2008, court reporters earned a median annual wage of $49,710 according to the BLS. Educational requirements for a court reporter can vary; however, in most cases at least a certification course is necessary. Some states require licensure while others may not require certification but offer the option to become licensed. Court clerks do not usually need post-secondary training for an entry-level position.
This is but a small taste of the criminal justice careers available.