Careers in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is a wide and varied field, with many different types of opportunities. A professional who works in one sector of the criminal justice system may actually have very little in common with a professional from another area. Therefore, there are no general requirements for all jobs in the criminal justice system. Each career must be looked at on an individual basis to understand how people start their careers in the field of their choice. Nearly all jobs in the criminal justice system begin with a bachelor’s degree. 

  • Probation Officer Probation officers have relatively diverse professional and academic backgrounds. Some have only earned bachelor’s degrees (there may be even be a few openings for those who have only associate’s degrees in criminal justice) while other probation officers have master’s degrees in criminal justice, criminology or sociology. In one probation office, there might be professionals who are recently out of college working next to professionals with decades of counseling experience. It is best for prospective probation officers to study social work, criminal justice or psychology at the undergraduate level and seek internship or volunteer opportunities in counseling or in the criminal justice system. Many probation officers are required to undergo further training upon being hired.

  • Forensic Investigator – Thanks to the popularity of “CSI” and other crime shows, forensic careers are well known. However, not many people know how to actually go about getting these careers. Forensic investigators properly collect and analyze biological evidence at crime scenes to help solve crimes. They may specialize in computer forensics, fingerprints, ballistics, handwriting, or biochemistry. Beginning a forensic investigation career involves earning a bachelor’s degree; helpful college majors include chemistry, biology and computer science. Most forensic investigators have a masters degree or some other postsecondary training that specifically prepares them for the type of forensic work they will be asked to do. Apprenticeships are popular ways of training prospective forensic experts.

  • Detective – Detectives are puzzle solvers, putting together pieces of evidence to solve crimes and capture suspects. Detectives are usually career policemen or have some other related career experience. They also nearly always have bachelor’s degrees in such areas as psychology, sociology, criminal justice, or police science. Nowadays, many detectives have postsecondary degrees in criminal justice. Few people are hired as detectives as soon as they graduate from college, but some private agencies will take those who have gained experience while completing their undergraduate degrees.