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What is Criminal Justice?
Certain classes are essential in criminal justice, depending on the degree level, are evident if you understand the definition of this field. It involves the criminal justice system, meaning a structure of laws and rules within society to protect its citizens. Individuals who do not abide by the laws will face the consequences, typically in a court of law. The justice system operates at the local, state, or federal level, depending on the crime’s severity and location.
The criminal justice system has many arms: Police, prosecution, defense lawyers, courts, and corrections or prisons. Courts are the primary venue where parties settle, or juries render an innocent or guilty verdict. Not all cases require a jury; for example, a judge decides many civil cases like family law, probate, and juvenile cases. In criminal cases, there can be as few as six jurors or the standard panel of twelve.
The study of criminal justice in the United States dates back to 1916 when August Vollmer, the first Police Chief of Berkeley, California, persuaded the University of California (UC) to teach criminal justice. He was also the first police chief to place officers on motorcycles and automobiles to patrol a larger area. Vollmer’s innovations eventually labeled him as the father of law enforcement. After retiring in 1932, he taught Police Administration and established the School of Criminology at UC. Chief Vollmer was also the impetus to create the American Society of Criminology, which flourished into an international organization.
The subject materials will vary depending on whether you work towards an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree. In addition, as you advance up the academic ladder, there are more opportunities to select specialized areas.
Each institution has different coursework, but the majority provides a well-rounded study plan. You may study the areas of law enforcement, forensic science, corporate security, criminal investigation, crime and punishment, cybercrime, and the department of corrections. The curriculum may include analyzing the U.S. court system, the U.S. Constitution, and the corrections system. You may also take courses in written and oral communications to develop the soft skills imperative for a career in law enforcement or related areas of criminal justice.
This article will provide an overview of what classes to expect at the different degree levels.
A high school diploma or GED is all you need to apply to a metropolitan police academy. An Associate’s degree, many of which are online, provides an introduction to the court system, correctional institutions, sociology, juvenile criminals, and psychology. Degrees at this level are not intended to teach specialized courses but cover various topics to establish a foundation in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
The online Criminal Justice Associate degree at PennFoster has classes in:
Police Management: Studies the operation of a law enforcement agency and current issues in police management.
Juveniles and the Legal Process: Covers court procedures, intervention methods, and victimization caused by juvenile offenders.
Criminal Law: Class in the different types of law – property vs. violence, police power, the criminal act, and classification of various crimes.
Crime Scene Investigation: Learn the basics of forensics, including sketching, photographing, analyzing, preserving, and collecting evidence.
Psychology: Teaches several topics, ranging from motivation to learning theories.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) is another school at the forefront of online learning at all levels. It offers an associate’s degree in criminal justice whose classes differ from PennFoster. SNHU includes:
Cultural Awareness: Cultural influences and how they might create biases and behavior.
Communication Skills: Develops writing and verbal skills for law enforcement professionals.
Judicial System: Class in how the U.S. court system functions at different layers of government.
Research Literacy: Teaches research strategies for practical application and how to use diverse data sources.
Before taking classes devoted to your major, most schools have set General Requirements. These could take you into mathematics, literature, public speaking, and business courses. Colleges/universities want you to have a liberal arts education in addition to the studies related to the major. For example, SNHU students must complete six credits in English Composition, six Statistics, six from a list of Humanities classes, and three each in Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
A bachelor’s degree typically affords more areas to tailor the classes to your area of interest, such as cybercrime or forensic science. Generally, a four-year program teaches an assortment of subject matter, such as the role of technology in forensics, how the corrections system works, how the courts interact with law enforcement, and criminal justice theory. Sample courses for the CJ major may include Criminal Investigation and Procedure, Police in Modern Society, Forensics, and Criminology Theories. Other examples are classes in Criminal Justice Research Methods, Statistics for Criminal Justice, Socioeconomic Influences in Crime, Police in Contemporary Society, and White-Collar Crime.
SNHU also has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice available online or on-campus in Manchester, New Hampshire. Students begin by completing 39 credits from General Education, most of which fall into the categories of Math, English, Humanities, Social and Natural Sciences. The next phase is 39 credits of Major courses, which include:
- Cultural Awareness in CJ
- The United States Judicial System
- Technology in CJ
- Policing in the U.S.
- Problem Solving for Criminal Justice Professionals
Not unlike the associate’s degree – an undergraduate program covers many of the same subjects.
Additionally, you can expect an expanded assortment of electives; for example, SNHU’s program has twelve. These prepare you for your desired career track, which could be corrections, juvenile justice, law enforcement, legal studies, international justice, or management/administration.
The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, has 42 credits of Common Core classes, 18 credits of Liberal Arts Requirements, and 36 Major Sequence. Some of the Core classes are Philosophy, Literature, Metaphysics, Scientific Inquiry, and Public Speaking. Liberal Arts consist of English, Math, General Psychology, and Sociology. The Major Sequence includes the criminal justice topics:
- Theories of Crime
- American Judicial System
- Correctional System
- Police and the Community
Students choose the remaining credits (21) from a list of electives.
Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky, offers a 120-credit Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Studies. There are 45 credit hours of criminal justice core courses and 18 in one of the CJ minors, with most of the hours in General Studies (57). The list of minors is Restorative Justice, Criminal Justice Reform, and Criminal Justice Studies. This program has several of the standard courses, like victimology and juvenile justice; however, the degree covers different material:
- Race, Crimes, and Restorative Justice
- Rehabilitation and the Offender
- Socioeconomic Problems
- Research Methods
- Police Problems and Practices
The Spalding study plan culminates in a CJ Internship and Capstone Research Project.
A graduate degree allows you to branch into different specialties. Earning a master’s degree could result in a promotion to a higher management level or rank in a law enforcement agency or police department. A Master’s of Criminal Justice provides an advanced understanding of theory and best practices of individuals in management positions of criminal justice, fraud management, and law enforcement organizations. The curriculum might address topics including ethics, decision-making, and the impact of crime in society to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice systems.
For example, Boston University’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice can specialize in Cybercrime & Cybersecurity, Strategic Management, or Crime Analysis. The latter includes Research and Evaluation Methods, Intelligence Analysis, Data Science with Python, GIS (global information system) and Spatial Analysis, and Data Mining classes. Consequently, students learn to recognize and use various data sources in crime and intelligence analysis.
The Cybercrime concentration studies Digital Forensics, Mobile Forensics, Cyberterrorism, and Cyber Defense. Some of the learning outcomes are:
- Understand legal admissibility of digital evidence
- Knowledge of cybercrime digital forensics
- Understand criminal mindset and motivational factors
- Practice risk management and recovery procedures
The Strategic Management option explores Applied Analytical Methods, Criminology, Criminal Justice Administration, and Ethics. Graduates will have a foundation in emergency management, organizational decision-making, criminal justice policymaking, and theories of organization in the CJ system.
Working professionals in law enforcement might check out the Master of Science in Criminal Justice online at Lamar University. Students can complete the curriculum in twelve months at a total cost of $9,735 (inclusive of distance learning fee: 2021). The 28-credits program is divided into three Course Groups (9, 6, and 15 credit hours). Group three has the most hours, including Homeland Security, Serial Murder, Constitutional Law, and Applied Criminology classes. The latter has numbers one through eleven called Special Studies, with each covering a different area. For example:
- Race and Crime
- Police Law
- Legal Aspects
- Constitutional Law
- Constitutional Law
Graduate Degree Options
Individuals pursuing a master’s degree are not restricted to focus on criminal justice. Instead, you can build on your undergraduate studies in this field by choosing a concentration that suits your career goals. Individuals interested in the criminal mind may opt for a specialty in the psychology of crime that delves into Behavioral Analysis. You learn to transfer basic principles of behavior analysis into practical and comprehensive functional behavioral assessments, behavioral interventions, and program evaluation. You accomplish this by taking classes in behavioral development, therapeutic strategies in criminal justice, and applied behavioral analysis.
Albany State University in Albany, Georgia, offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice with the selection of three specialties:
Forensic Science: Applicants need a baccalaureate in forensic science, forensic chemistry, chemistry, or criminal justice.
Law Enforcement: Examines policing in a democratic society, social service role in CJ, and law enforcement operations.
Public Administration: This concentration prepares graduates to investigate and manage organizational problems within law enforcement agencies.
Corrections: You study psychological testing, rehabilitation, treatment of inmates, and interviewing techniques.
Another concentration is in Homeland Security, which may study the detection, preparation, and reaction to potential foreign and domestic terrorist activities. Coursework might explore the causes and effects of terrorism from political, religious, and historical perspectives, including the sociological impacts of disasters. You might also understand the various roles and functions across law enforcement agencies and complex policy issues related to homeland security.
Individuals not willing to commit to the cost and time to earn a master’s degree should consider a graduate certificate. Walden University offers one for graduates with a bachelor’s degree to boost their knowledge of criminal behavior, psychopathology, Supreme Court cases, and cybercrime. And it is much cheaper than a two-year graduate program as the total tuition is $9,410.
Curricula that incorporate internships are an asset as many internships can eventually lead to full-time employment upon graduation. Interns glean valuable workplace experience and the bonus of networking with colleagues in criminal justice. Therefore, consider this during your college research, as this built-in feature would prevent a student from the arduous task of locating an appropriate internship.
Internship opportunities exist in a host of venues, for example, private investigation firms, state probation offices, substance abuse counseling services, public safety agencies, and district attorneys.
On Internships. Com, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice seeks a counselor intern in substance abuse. The minimum education is a high school diploma and has a letter of registration as a Counselor Intern with Texas. The salary starts at $15/hour (2021). Not all internships receive payment; for example, the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services in Minnesota have an unpaid internship for college students. These examples demonstrate that qualifications and compensation will vary according to the position.
Every college program, from associate’s to master’s, creates its own curriculum; therefore, creating subtle differences between each one. As a student, pore over the coursework for your top selected schools to determine if their classes meet your career aspirations. Additionally, there are many organizations to use as a resource- many with student memberships. Some of these are:
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
- American Society of Criminology (ASC)
- American Correctional Association (ACA)
- International Association of Women Police (IAWP)
- Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA)
- National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
- International Community Corrections Association (ICCA)
- American Probation and Parole Association (APPA)
The student membership for the ASC and ACJS is only $55 and $40, respectively, and the APPA is just $25 annually!
National Criminal Justice Association