Crime doesn’t exist in a vacuum – especially from the perspective of a criminologist. Studying criminology means looking at the big picture of crime from a sociological perspective and understanding the statistical data and the societal factors and forces behind it. Graduates of criminologist programs use this knowledge base to work in many areas, from research and academia to law enforcement and corrections.

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The Intersection Between Society and Crime

A single perpetrator may commit a crime without an accomplice, but that doesn’t mean he or she wasn’t influenced by external factors, especially social ones. When these problematic social factors are allowed to persist, the impact is, unfortunately, a greater potential for future crimes. Social issues can contribute to criminal activities in many ways, but the reverse is also true.

Criminalizing crimes like drug use, rather than treating those offenses as health conditions requiring rehabilitation, often means incarcerating people for nonviolent crimes and removing them from the families, communities and economies of which they are a part. Even if the incarcerated individual gets treatment within a correctional facility and undergoes rehabilitation, the effects of that absence on the community – may be profound.

Children may grow up without a crucial parental figure. Families could lose stable homes due to the loss of a paycheck. Small businesses could flounder because an owner, manager or longtime employee is gone. All of these changes affect society, especially when they occur on a grand scale, and may drive even more criminal behavior from others affected by the original crime or incarceration. When an incarcerated individual gets released from prison, it is often difficult to find gainful employment or readjust to a family unit that has changed drastically – which only serves to increase the likelihood that the individual will commit repeat offenses.

By gathering empirical data and formulating evidence-backed theories about the relationship between social issues and crime, those who have studied criminology can develop strategies and programs that address these social issues. Altering the factors that influence crimes, rather than merely increasing the severity of sentences, may more effectively reduce rates of criminal activities.

There’s a tendency to look at psychological factors on criminal behavior in the general sense of considering a suspect’s thought processes or, more specifically, whether mental health issues played a role. Social factors are equally important, especially for prevention.

What Criminologists Do

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes criminologist as a specialized type of sociologist, or a type of social scientist whose area of expertise is society and social groups. Many people with a job title of criminologist work in social science research, conducting quantitative and qualitative research and collecting and analyzing data to understand crime on a social, rather than individual, level. Instead of looking at the possible motives of an individual criminal, criminologists tend to emphasize larger societal issues and explore both how these matters impact crime and how crime affects these issues in turn. For example, a criminologist may explore correlations between crime rates and unemployment rates to understand how poor economies contribute to increases in crime. Criminologists who perform research at colleges and universities often have teaching duties, as well.

Some criminologists focus less on academic and research pursuits and more on the practical application of their knowledge to criminal justice situations. In consulting roles, criminologists may help law enforcement officers solve crimes and government entities develop more effective corrections and crime prevention programs.

Criminologist isn’t the only career path you can pursue when you study criminology. The program of study is relevant to virtually any criminal justice career, especially since most roles in law enforcement, corrections and criminal intelligence require some form of academy training or on-the-job training to learn procedures. With a criminologist background, you can become a police officer, a criminal investigator, a federal agent, a private detective, a probations officer or a corrections officer.

Studying criminology doesn’t mean limiting your career prospects to research, teaching at the college level or occasional consulting. It means approaching any position in the criminal justice system from this global perspective of how outside forces drive criminal behavior.

What to Expect When You Study Criminology

Studying criminology means drawing from the concepts, principles and practices used in both sociology and criminal justice and synthesizing those findings to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Focusing on this field of study means you will complete classes in sociological principles and social problems along with courses in the legal process, criminal justice principles and criminal procedure.

Coursework in statistical analysis, psychology, anthropology, philosophical issues, political science, economics and American history round out the curriculum of this truly interdisciplinary field of social science inquiry.

Additional Resources

What Can I Do With a Criminology Degree?

What Kind of Jobs Does Someone With a Criminology Degree Look For?

What Classes Will I Take With a Degree in Criminology?

What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology?