Criminal justice is an important part of our communities. It centers on all aspects of the legal system, including law enforcement and the legal system. Because it is such a broad field, there are many diverse career options from which to choose, and many criminal justice jobs that don’t require a degree.
If you’re considering a career performing public service, check out these five most popular careers in criminal justice.
What is Criminal Justice?
You don’t have to be a police officer to work in criminal justice. Criminal justice is a broad field spanning from the local, state, to federal levels of government. Centering around the legal system’s many different layers and stages, it includes police and their work investigating and studying crimes that have been committed, the courts and legal system where those crimes are prosecuted and the accused receive a defense, and corrections offices where offenders serve their penalties and the support that follows. This means that the key institutions or groups that the criminal justice system focuses on are law enforcement agencies, attorneys for both prosecution and defense, the courts that hear the cases, and prison and corrections agencies.
5 most popular criminal justice jobs
Those looking for a purpose or a way to help the public may find a criminal justice career very rewarding. Because the full criminal justice system is so broad, there are quite a few types of jobs that can be found. The five most popular jobs you may want to pursue include:
- Police officer. Probably the first job that comes to mind when thinking of criminal justice, a police officer’s duty is to protect and serve the public. This can be at a local, county, state, or federal agency. Salary can vary depending on which of those levels you work, but in 2021 police officers earned around $66,020. Common duties involve investigations, patrolling, and providing assistance when called upon.
- Paralegal. Paralegals serve in a similar way to attorneys, but usually have not attended law school and are not licensed to practice law. They conduct research for cases, investigate claims, help to prepare cases for trial, and can earn an average yearly salary of $56,230. This is also a great role if you’re thinking about law school and looking to gain experience and knowledge before making the financial and time commitment, or as a way to get a foot in the door while helping to pay for your law education.
- Detective. Detectives work in law enforcement, starting out as police officers. A test is usually required to advance into detective work, where the officer then has a specialty focusing on specific types of crime, such as burglary, homicide, or white-collar crimes, depending on the size and type of police department in which they work.
- Legal Secretary. Often, legal secretaries and paralegals are confused with one another because their roles can be very similar depending on the size of the law firm they’re working for. They perform research for cases, but in addition to that, they also prepare legal documents including subpoenas, motions, complaints and responses, and perform clerical duties.
- Probation officer. Probation officers work with those who have been found guilty of a crime. This can be after release from a prison sentence or in place of time spent in jail. They often evaluate an offender’s history, then provide resources for rehabilitation, write reports on the individual’s progress, and help reduce the risk of committing any further offenses. On average, probation officers earned about $66,250 in 2021.
How do I start a career in criminal justice?
If you’re interested in starting a rewarding career in criminal justice, the first place to begin is with a quality education. While requirements differ from job to job, department to department, and state to state, most criminal justice jobs require some degree of education. This can range from a career diploma to an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree. Ashworth College offers a variety of programs to help get you on track to where you’d like to be with your career, all at an affordable price and at your own pace. Some programs you may want to consider are:
- Civil Litigation Career Certificate. You can earn a career certificate in Civil Litigation in just a few months. You’ll study the differences between civil and criminal law, the structure of federal and state courts, the rules for a civil lawsuit, the role of a paralegal, and ethics. This is a great starting point if you’re thinking about a career as a legal assistant or paralegal but aren’t quite sure if you want to take the plunge just yet. It’s also a great option for brushing up on foundational knowledge if you’re already working within the field.
- Criminal Law and Procedure Career Certificate. If you know you want to work specifically in criminal law, this is where to start. Ashworth’s career certificate can help you learn about the different types of criminal law and the types of crime that fall into this category. You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the rights of the accused, their defense, and trials. This course can help those looking to work for law firms, getting a job within the courts, or even those seeking work as police officers.
- Paralegal Studies Associate Degree. For anyone looking to start a career as a legal secretary or paralegal, earning an associate degree is a smart choice. You’ll study the courses needed to work in busy law firms, like legal research and writing, law office management, and criminal law and procedures, but you’ll also work on fundamental skills like English composition, math, and public speaking. If you’re already a paralegal or legal secretary looking to refresh your skills or give your resume a boost, there are more condensed paralegal course options like a Paralegal Career Diploma or Paralegal Undergraduate Certificate.
- Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree. Many law enforcement agencies now require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, especially at the state level. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can help you build a solid foundation to pursue a career as a police officer or state trooper, or even help prepare you for law school by helping you study the basics surrounding American law and procedure, criminal investigations, correction, and more.
Check out our full list of online law courses to find the program that’s right for you and your goals.
Start a career in Criminal Justice with Ashworth College.
If you’re ready to pursue a fulfilling public service career, Ashworth is here to help get you started. Study when and where you’d like, online, through flexible, self-paced learning. Call an Admissions Advisor today at or enroll online today to get started.