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What is the difference between a degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology?

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The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known written law codes that was likely compiled during the reign of the Babylonian King (1792-1750 B.C.) The Code is famous for demanding punishment to fit the crime (the lex talionis, or an eye for an eye) with different treatment for each social class. Theories on how to deal with crime has been the subject of many famous scholars over the ages. Plato (424-348 B.C.) was among the first to opine that crime was often the result of a poor education and that punishments for crimes should be assessed based on their degree of fault. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)  developed the idea that responses to crime should attempt to prevent future acts.

In more recent times, the study of crime has evolved into a collection of subjects, namely Criminal Justice and Criminology. These terms are quite different, though they have been used interchangeably. Certainly, both criminal justice and criminology are related fields of study, but for those pursuing a degree in criminal justice or criminology, it’s important to understand the differences.

Criminology is the study of the anatomy of a crime, specifically its causes, consequences and costs. Criminal justice, on the other hand, refers to established systems for dealing with crime, specifically detection of crime, detaining of criminals, and criminal prosecution and punishment. Students pursuing career opportunities in criminal justice will study the different components of criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Students enrolled in a criminology degree program will study the behavior patterns, backgrounds, and sociological trends of criminals.

Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota, defines criminology as the scientific study of crime as a social phenomenon. Earning a degree in criminology is ideal for students who want to work in the legal system right after graduation or who are considering law school. This highly interdisciplinary field leans most heavily on sociology, but also includes biology, anthropology, psychology, law and various other fields.  Because crime is a complex and multi-layered issue, there are countless avenues of study and investigation surrounding it.  It explores criminal behavior, society’s response to crime, the examination of evidence, psychological and hereditary causes of crime.

Criminal Justice has been defined in legal terms as  a generic term for the procedure by which criminal conduct is investigated, evidence gathered, arrests made, charges brought, defenses raised, trials conducted, sentences rendered and punishment carried out. It refers to America’s overarching system of police, courts and jails. It includes all of the institutions of government aimed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime and sanctioning those who violate laws.  It entails the study of all aspects in the justice system on a national and international scale. This includes the study of police, court and prison systems – the 3 Cs of cops, courts and corrections. Criminal Justice studies may also involve psychology, statistics, business and sociology.

If you’re perplexed as to which degree route to take, then the career options may help you decide. Examples of Criminology career options include:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Forensics Psychology
  •  Intervention Programming
  •  Medical Investigation Rehabilitation
  • Private Investigation

A degree in Criminal Justice is for those interested in pursuing a career in:

  • Law Enforcement: Police Officer, Deputy Sheriff, Detective, State Trooper, Park Ranger
  • Federal Law Enforcement: FBI, DEA, ICE, ATF agent, U.S. Postal Service Inspector
  • Correctional: Parole Office, Probation Officer, Victim Witness Assistant

Therefore, both fields of study offer a great variety of job options, both early in one’s career and for long-term professional growth.  As for choosing a degree in Criminal Justice or Criminology, don’t think that you’ll be locked into one if you decide to continue your education to a masters or beyond. As it’s not uncommon for a person to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a master’s degree in criminal justice, or vice versa.

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