The criminal justice field oversees critical public safety functions on a local and national level — with involvement in all aspects of criminal proceedings from initial investigation to sentencing. This industry offers a number of rewarding career paths that serve public and private interests. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to make an impact in criminal justice.
Are you interested in furthering your career through law enforcement management? Have you considered pursuing a specialty, like corrections or homeland security? Do you want to teach criminal justice or criminology in addition to having a career in the field? Opportunities within the discipline of criminal justice are varied, and that means each role may require a unique, focused and specialized skill set. How can you achieve that skill set? One path is through a master’s degree in criminal justice, which can prepare you to make a difference in your community or the country as a whole.
The versatility of a master’s in criminal justice opens the door to an extensive list of career options in law enforcement, corrections and security. You could even use the degree to pave the way to law school. The online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice degree from Arizona State University explores ideas central to legal or criminal justice professions where strong leadership and a solid understanding of the field is imperative. The areas of service and opportunities available offer a number of rewarding career paths to pursue after graduation.
While all of the career options in the criminal justice field can be rewarding and fulfilling, it might be challenging to decide which one is right for you. Following are five potential careers you can pursue with an online master’s degree in criminal justice.
These are two different positions one can hold with a master’s degree in criminal justice. Frequently, those wishing to explore a career as a criminologist are already academics, so they end up working in both fields, sharing their expertise as they learn on the job.
Criminologists focus on what causes criminal behavior. They gather crime data related to why criminals behave the way they do, analyze the information, then use their findings to aid police or the government in their investigations. This position offers a unique opportunity for you to work with data and files, incarcerated felons and law enforcement to gather all of the necessary information to create useful and actionable research findings.
Typically, criminologists work for large law enforcement agencies, the government or in social psychology labs at universities. Since a professor’s job can include a combination of teaching and research, there is a close connection for criminologists to explore teaching as well, which is why they may be employed at a university rather than an agency.
The average salary for each position varies, with criminal justice educators averaging around $55,000 according to Payscale, and criminologists, categorized by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics under sociologists, averaging around $80,000. Both professions are estimated to grow over the next few years. Among college faculty jobs, part-time positions are estimated to increase the most.
This trend of part-time education positions showing the most growth provides you with an additional opportunity to create a role for yourself that combines criminology with teaching. Working in education part time could allow you to also work for an agency.
2. Federal Law Enforcement
There are many federal agencies you could work for if you’re considering a national law enforcement position. Roles as an agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, Central Intelligence Agency, Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are just a few possibilities for you to explore.
Any of these agencies can give you a platform to utilize the skills obtained with an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice. The base duties of federal agents often overlap with local police officers but differ in the jurisdiction – more widespread than local – and specialization. For example, federal agents could have a focus on arresting and prosecuting drug traffickers, or they could patrol U.S. borders by land, sea or air, among many other specialties. In addition, many agents also collaborate with other agencies and departments on various federal initiatives.
Salaries for these positions can vary between agencies, but the average federal law enforcement salary is $77,000, according to Payscale.
3. Correctional Systems
Focusing your career in corrections enables you to pursue several job options at different levels, such as case manager, drug treatment specialist, correctional officer, parole officer and probation officer. Each of these areas includes management positions, and earning your master’s degree in criminal justice could make you more competitive for a higher-level opening.
Correctional officers make up the largest part of the prison workforce, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. They enforce regulations while also supervising and counseling inmates. Case managers work directly with inmates during their incarceration to help them progress to release. Drug treatment specialists have the dual responsibility of educating inmates on substance abuse treatments as well as managing and determining eligibility for treatment programs. Once inmates are released, the parole officer helps ensure they don’t commit any additional crimes. Probation officers focus on non-incarcerated offenders and supervise their actions and behaviors. While each position handles a different aspect within the correctional system, they’re all integral in helping reduce the recidivism rate.
Salaries in this field vary greatly depending on the specific position. At the higher end are parole officers and correctional officers who earn an average of $50,000 and $43,000 respectively, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Managers in these areas could earn higher salaries.
4. Criminal/Intelligence Analyst
While some duties may vary between a crime analyst, intelligence analyst and a forensic science technician, each position focuses on evidence in one way or another. Whether it’s collecting evidence directly from a crime scene, reviewing forensic reports or performing analysis in the lab, this area of criminal justice helps facilitate criminal investigations.
Because these positions have a more scientific focus, it’s often preferred that you have an undergraduate degree in a natural science, like biology or chemistry, before pursuing your master’s degree in criminal justice. You will also need to be prepared for extensive on-the-job training.
Salaries vary based on the role and responsibilities, but on average, the salary for a criminal/intelligence analyst is $57,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There is also above-average potential for job growth in this area.
5. Local Law Enforcement Management
Becoming a part of your local police force or sheriff’s department is an admirable way to serve your community. Joining the local force doesn’t necessarily require a higher degree of education, but a Master of Arts in Criminal Justice can be helpful when applying for management positions. The advanced degree could prove valuable in job negotiations, either for salary increases or promotions to management roles.
These include roles such as supervisor, lieutenant and police chief. Most of these positions require you to have the appropriate skills to supervise other individuals and coordinate activities within the police force.
Your eligibility for higher-level management positions can increase after gaining a few years of experience in law enforcement and displaying values of professionalism. In fact, the International Association of Chiefs of Police highlighted possible strong qualities of police chiefs to be active listening, education, attention to detail and resourcefulness, among others.
Another important management position within law enforcement is police lieutenant. This position has supervisory responsibilities and can earn a salary range between $49,000 and $123,000, according to Payscale.
Learn more about your potential careers in criminal justice
Pursuing a career in criminal justice can help you join a community of police officers, supervisors, correctional officers, federal agents and many more professionals. No matter which career path in criminal justice interests you, you can learn more about expanding your qualifications in the online criminal justice master’s program from Arizona State University. This advanced degree explores the core tenets of criminal justice that may be applied in a variety of career settings.