Why study criminal justice?

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the expected industry job growth for the field of criminal justice is 10 percent through 2018. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that expenditures required to operate the U.S. justice system continues to increase over time, from $36 billion in 1982 to well over $200 billion in most recent years, much of which is associated with personnel costs associated with more than four million employees. The BJS reports further that criminal justice costs comprise approximately 7.2 percent of all State and local public expenditures. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook reports that at least for the next six years, students with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice can enter occupations where growth is either average or faster than the average for all occupations in the country. It is expected that criminal justice jobs in North Carolina will parallel the national average, primarily because of continuing expansion in both the adult and juvenile justice systems.

While these data indicate continuing growth in the costs of operating the U.S. criminal justice system, they do not capture fully the world of work associated with private and non-profit companies and organizations that provide support services for the criminal justice system. Private security corporations have grown exponentially over the past decade and provide support services for the adult and juvenile systems of justice along with the security operations that address prevention and loss from major retail stores. Corrections Corporation of America, for example, employs about 235,000 people with annual revenue around $33 billion. Private security firms are expected to continue to grow over the next five years in light of strong demand for government contracts either to provide security for government facilities or to provide some sort of non-security function for the operation of those facilities. Non-profit entities such as rape crisis centers or domestic violence shelters also support local economies through providing job opportunities.

For most federal and state criminal justice or criminal justice-related agencies/departments, an undergraduate degree is required for employment. This has not always been the case. However, through the professionalization of the field of criminal justice, requiring employees to have a college degree is becoming more common. Although municipal or county departments and/or agencies may not require a college degree, some college work is generally hoped for and those with a four-year degree are more likely to advance in their careers more quickly than do those without a college degree. Trade journals such as the Police Executive Research Forum report that officers with a college education are more responsible and make better decisions than do their counterparts without a college degree. Lost personnel time has also been shown to be inversely correlated with education with a reduction in time off work as one’s education level increases. Further, some evidence suggests that education seems to be positively correlated with higher levels of civility and the production of a more humanistic police profession. It is not reaching to suggest that the positive impact of education on police work is also found for other areas of work across the criminal justice system such as institutional and community corrections, the juvenile justice system, court administrative units, substance abuse treatment programs, victim services programs, crisis managers or first responders, research and data support activities, etc.

What types of jobs or careers are available in the field of criminal justice?

Policing/law enforcement
Corrections officers
Juvenile and adult probation
Court offices
Legal aids/paralegals
Victim services provider
Crisis counseling for domestic violence/sexual assault victims
Children and youth agencies
Supervisors/managers for non-profit agencies that provide programming for convicted offenders
Investigators of insurance fraud/identify theft, etc.