Criminal Justice Careers
This section includes information about salaries, education requirements, career paths, and job prospects for some of the most in-demand criminal justice occupations.
If you want to become a police officer, fire investigator, coroner, fingerprint technician, or security officer and you want to find out more about what to expect, this page is for you.
Arson Investigators determine the origin and causes of fires.
Blood spatter analysts are type scientists that deal with the blood portion of a crime.
Bodyguard is a personal security officer who protects clients from such threats as assault, kidnapping and stalking.
A cop is an informal term for a police officer.
Coroners are responsible for determining the cause and circumstances surrounding unexpected, unnatural, or unexplained deaths.
Correctional Officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in a prison facility.
Crime scene investigators or CSIs) work alongside police officers to help solve crimes.
Criminal psychologists focus the bulk of their work on offenders.
FBI agents enforce a wide range of federal laws and perform many different investigative tasks.
Fingerprint technicians are forensic scientists who are specialists in the field of fingerprint identification.
Fire inspectors examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that federal, state, and local fire codes are met.
Forensic scientists work in the crime lab; they are civilians, not police officers.
Jail wardens oversee the administration, day-to-day operations, finances and long term goals of adult correctional facilities.
Parole officers interact with recently-released prisoners and their families in order to help them become productive members of society.
Police detectives gather evidence and examine crime scenes to discover what happened in criminal cases.
Police officer provides protection to the general public.
Private Investigators conduct investigations for clients and prepare evidence for court proceedings.
Probation officers monitor offenders who get sentences of supervision—known as probation—instead of or in addition to jail time.
Security guards are responsible for protecting property from stealing or damaging by someone.
SWAT team are all police officers who have proven themselves worthy of the position.
Undercover agent jobs normally require officers to fulfill the below duties.
U.S. Marshals Service does law enforcement for federal courts.
According to a report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police officers and detectives held approximately 795,000 jobs in 2020, most of them (about 671,200) being police and sheriff patrol officers.
Detectives and criminal investigators held 112,500 jobs, while 7,500 jobs were held by fish and game wardens.
Transit and railroad police held 3,800 jobs in the United States.
Most police and detectives worked for local governments but they also hold jobs at the state government and the federal government level.
Job descriptions for criminal justice workers vary widely depending on the employer and their occupation.
For example, FBI special agents must work at least 50 hours a week and are on call 24 hours per day, 7 hours per week.
Most fire inspectors and investigators work for local governments, but some are employed by state governments, colleges, or even the manufacturing sector.
Many criminal justice occupations, such as police officers, detectives, and fire investigators, work mostly in the private sector.
For example, 61 percent of the 1.1 million security guards in the United States worked for companies that provide investigation, guard, and armored car services.
Some criminal justice workers, such as court reporters and bodyguards work as freelancers who charge an hourly rate.
Injuries and illnesses are associated with some of the criminal justice occupations.
For example, forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses.
Fire inspectors and investigators are sometimes exposed to toxic fumes and other hazardous agents.
Police, sheriff’s patrol officers, and transit and railroad police also have a high rate of injuries and illnesses and may be exposed to high-risk situations when they have to make good decisions on the spot and act quickly.
Education requirements for police and detectives range from a high school diploma to a college degree.
Most police and detectives complete a period of on-the-job training after graduating from their agency’s training academy.
During police academy, students attend classroom instruction that covers state and local laws as well as constitutional law, civil rights, and ethics.
Recruits also receive supervised experience on patrol, traffic control, firearm use, first aid, self-defense, and emergency response.
Education and training requirements also vary depending on the sector of employment.
For example, for employment in federal prisons, correctional officers and bailiffs need to have at least a bachelor’s degree or 1 to 3 years of experience.
Degree fields for criminal justice workers vary between social science, law enforcement, security and protective service, and more.
Federal law enforcement agents undergo special extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico or a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
Most occupations in the criminal justice field become eligible for promotion after earning a few years of experience.
For police officers, promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain and usually made according to scores obtained on a written examination while also taking into account the officer’s performance on the job.
Paralegals need an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in legal studies or law.
There are also certificate programs for those who have already graduated from college and need intensive training in paralegal studies.
Besides the formal training, criminal justice workers also need special skills, such as:
Communication skills- it is important for most criminal justice workers to communicate well with the public or with other workers.
Empathy is very important, especially for those who work directly with people, such as police officers.
Physical stamina- many criminal justice workers need to be in good physical shape, and they are required to pass tests before entering the field.
Physical strength is an important skill, especially for police offers, bodyguards, and other professions who may have to confront suspects or dangerous people.
Research skills are required for paralegals, investigators, and other criminal justice workers who have to research laws, regulations, and evidence.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage reported by police and detectives was $67,290, which means that half of all workers in these professions earned less than this amount while half earned more.
Salaries in this field vary between less than $40,000 and more than $110,000, depending on experience, education, employer, and other factors.
Detectives and criminal investigators earned $86,940 per year, on average, while transit and railroad police made $72,580.
The median annual wage was $65,540 for police and sheriff patrol officers and $58,040 for fish and game wardens.
The top-paying employer for police and detectives in the United States was the federal government which offered a median annual salary of $92,080.
Officers who worked for state governments earned $70,280 per year, as of May 2020, on average, while those who worked for local governments made $65,850.
Paid overtime is very common for careers in criminal justice.
Many law enforcement agencies provide officers with allowances for uniforms and extensive benefits.
Workers in this profession have the option to retire at an age younger than the typical retirement age.
Having a college degree and being bilingual can help you earn more as a police officer.
Salaries for criminal justice workers vary widely depending on the occupation, the region, the industry of employment, the level of government funding, and other factors.
Security guards made $31,050 per year as of May 2020, with salaries fluctuating between less than $25,000 and more than $50,000, depending on factors such as experience level, education, and skills.
Court reporters earned $61,660 per year, on average, as of May 2020 but salaries varied between less than $35,000 and more than $100,000.
Regardless of the profession, workers can advance in their careers and improve their earning prospects by getting additional certificates or by earning a degree in a relevant field.
Some professions, such as police officers, advance in their careers after passing some tests, while also taking into account their performance on the job.
Most criminal justice professions will grow in the future, but the growth rate varies widely depending on the type of occupation and the level of government funding.
Employment prospects also vary depending on the region and the level of government spending.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for police and detectives is projected to grow 7 percent from 2020 to 2030, with many job openings resulting from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation or retire.
A higher growth rate is projected for paralegals and legal secretaries, a profession that will grow 12 percent by 2030.
This growth is explained, in fact, by the fact that more tasks in a law firm will be performed by entry-level paralegals to reduce legal costs for clients.
Moreover, as outside counsel becomes more expensive, many companies prefer to have their in-house legal departments.
Forensic science technicians will see job growth of approximately 16 percent from 2020 to 2030, but because this is a small occupation, it will result in only 2,700 new jobs.
Additional forensic science technicians will be hired by state and local governments to process their many caseloads.
Forensic technicians will also be needed to process objective forensic information that is used as evidence in trials.
There are also criminal justice professions for which the growth will be tempered by the implementation of new technologies, federal regulations, and budget cuts.
One such example is the profession of court reporter which will see an employment growth of approximately 3 percent from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations.
The growth will be limited by budgetary constraints and the increased use of digital audio recordings in court.
Employment for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is expected to grow 4 percent from 2020 to 2030.
The growth is explained, in part, by the fact that community corrections are viewed as a more economically viable alternative to incarceration in some cases.
Parole officers will continue to be needed to supervise individuals who are released from prison.
Employment for probation officers will vary depending on the government funding and how much money is allocated to probation and parole systems.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the employment prospects of criminal justice occupations?
Most criminal justice professions are expected to grow in the future, with rates that vary between 3 percent and more than 15 percent.
Employment prospects will see an important growth for paralegals and forensic science technicians, while for some professions, such as court reporters, this growth will be limited due to technological advancements and government cuts.
How much does a criminal justice worker make?
Salaries in the criminal justice field vary widely depending on experience level and the employer.
Some professions, such as security officers earned approximately $31,000 per year on average, while others can make more than $80,000.
In most cases, the wage increases as the workers become more experienced.
Do I need a college degree if I want to find a job in the criminal justice system?
The answer to this question depends on the occupation that you are targeting.
For some professions, such as security guard, a high school diploma is enough.
Other professions, such as paralegals or forensic science technicians, require a degree.
Many workers also need specialized on-the-job training or to complete a training academy.
What is the biggest employer for criminal justice workers?
Many criminal justice workers, such as police officers or fire investigators are hired by local, state, or federal governments.
However, there are also professions, such as security guards, who work mostly in the private sector or as freelancers.