Popular Criminal Justice Jobs

In April 2014, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 3,257,690 people working in criminal justice careers at $20.92 mean hourly and $43,510 mean annual wages. Criminal justice is an expanding job field with many openings for suitable candidates in law enforcement, corrections, and security sectors. Career planners interested in criminal justice might consider whether they have some particular character traits useful in the field:

Useful Skills for Criminal Justice Jobs

  • High Ethical Standards: Criminal justice work requires a clear, constant sense of right and wrong. A law enforcement position of power is one of public trust that, if abused, can have devastating career consequences.
  • Leadership Skills: Criminal justice workers, especially those in law enforcement, are role models. In addition to personal character, it’s important for them to display skills that make people want to follow their lead.
  • Physical Fitness: Criminal justice workers in law enforcement need lots of physical strength to deal with offenders, and all need high energy levels to meet the demands of their jobs.
  • Calm Demeanor: Criminal justice work can be extremely stressful. The ability to stay calm and collected under pressure and provocation really helps.
  • Technology Skills: Good criminal justice candidates need computer and technical skills to perform their jobs well. Almost every criminal justice job requires computer skills, most notably in forensics.

For those who feel they have what they need to succeed, the following specific occupations are the most popular in numbers employed and opportunities for entry and advancement:

  • Patrol Officer: Police officers and sheriff deputies are the most visible and popular criminal justice professionals. They are the first to respond to complaints and crime reports, investigate minor crimes, and apprehend suspects. Although the patrol officer rank is entry-level, it requires substantial education, preferably a college degree, and completion of an extensive police academy training program with academic instruction in constitutional law and civil rights, state laws, local ordinances, traffic control, self-defense, care and use of firearms, first aid, and emergency response. All officers must write up incident and arrest reports and maintain complete and precisely accurate records for use in court cases.
  • Probation and Parole Officers: These two positions have similar duties and functions in criminal justice but serve slightly different purposes. Probation officers report to sentencing courts on rehabilitation potential of convicted defendants and supervise them during suspended sentences on probation in lieu of incarceration. Parole officers supervise convicts following service of at least their minimum terms of incarceration and conditional release subject to return to incarceration for another offense or for a violation of release conditions at the discretion of the parole board.
  • Detective/Investigator: Detectives and criminal investigators outrank patrol officers, many of whom after a few years of police work experience apply for detective positions. They usually investigate certain felony crimes, burglary, for example, or robbery, homicide, or controlled substances. Like crime scene investigators, detectives enjoy considerable prestige among criminal justice careerists and are also among the best paid.
  • Correctional Officer: They maintain and operate prisons, jails, penitentiaries, and correctional facilities generally. Not among the more prestigious of criminal justice occupations, their work is a necessary service with very good career prospects for candidates who can tolerate the environment. Correctional experience is valuable preparation for other law enforcement careers. All correctional officers need high school diplomas. Federal prison entry-level requirements are more rigorous than are those of most states. Some state and local institutions require military or law enforcement experience.
  • Security Guard: These jobs can be attractive to criminal justice career candidates who need work with few qualifications quickly. Security guard jobs vary by industry from basic front desk occupants to mobile armed patrols. Security guards deter criminals, enforce property owner laws and regulations, and work with local and state police authorities as necessary. Security officers may be armed, may patrol premises, or may remain in fixed positions monitoring by security surveillance cameras. Celebrity security guards deal with journalists, photographers, and unruly fans. Security guards at airports or train stations screen and protect passengers, their property, and carrier cargo from criminal and terrorist threats. Store security guards keep merchandise safe from pilferage, maintain order, and assist managers and staff as needed.

About the author: Amy Klimek is an experienced HR recruiter and VP of Human Resources for ZipRecruiter, a company that simplifies the hiring process for small to medium size businesses. Prior to that Amy has held similar roles at Rent.com, eBay and US Interactive.

For Amy, corporate culture isn’t about dogs and free lunches, it’s about empowering employees and creating an enriching environment for people to excel.