When you’re investigating careers in crime-related fields, you might be a little confused about the difference between criminology and criminal justice, which might seem like complete synonyms.
In reality, there is a difference between the two fields, although they are very closely related.
Criminal justice is study of the real-world systems that deal with crime, including the police, courts, and prisons. Criminology, on the other hand, is concerned with the causes of criminal behavior and society’s responses and reactions to crime. (Read our article which explains what Criminology is in great detail)
The disciplines often affect each other, as criminology research has historically played a reforming role in relation to laws and the criminal justice system. Similarly, changes and major decisions within the criminal justice system can yield new paths of investigation for criminology research.
Over time, criminology has changed profoundly as criminal justice systems have evolved. In fact, it was the unequal criminal justice systems of the 18th century that lead to the formation of criminology as an area of study!
Despite these distinctions, you will often hear these terms used interchangeably. In fact, even some professional organizations and important publications do not make a clear distinction between the two fields. (example: Criminology and Criminal Justice Journal)
In many criminology degree programs, you will take some classes that focus more on criminal justice, and vice versa.
In general, both discipline are equally valuable in terms of gaining employment, and each will require some knowledge and study of the other. If you have an anticipated organization for which you would like to work, take a good look at its employment website to see if they require a specific major. Similarly, if you are only interested in attending certain schools, take a close look at the course offerings and the mission philosophy of the program (either criminology or criminal justice) to see if it aligns well with your own interests.