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Things To Do With Your Criminal Justice Degree

Aug 17, 2007
A lot of students considering a civil service career think that a criminal justice degree is only good for being a law enforcement officer or, in combination with a legal degree, a criminal lawyer. Here are a whole range of criminal justice career choices that many degree-holders overlook, but are well worth consideration:

Social Work/ Personal Cases
These may include child support and child protective services, missing persons, domestic violence and spousal or elderly abuse. Domestic legal social work is often identified as having extreme pros and cons to it. On the one hand, you're working to make everyone's home life better. On the other, the work can be stressful when confronting a perpetrator or heart-wrenching when confronting a victim. Social workers will work with law enforcement officers to assess a domestic situation, monitor a case to ensure that the desires of the court are carried out, and make further recommendations to the court for the disposal of cases.

Criminal Investigators and Special Agents
Also known as "the Feds". Working in federal investigations is a whole new ball game compared to municipal police work. As for special agents, these are not limited to the FBI; nearly every federal agency has some type of special agent. These include the Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Marshals Service, the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the National Park Service. Special agent work is a way to combine a criminal justice career with many other fields of government work and specialty interests.

Immigration and Customs Inspectors
These are the public servants who control access of persons and property into and out of the United States. Quite a high-profile job lately, with today's concerns over terrorism. A challenging job, with being able to speak multiple languages fluently a big plus (in some cases a requirement). Sometimes your biggest concern will not be stopping a terrorist, but preventing a confused, but innocent person from being mistaken for one! In addition, you maybe on the spot to check or clear visiting diplomats and dignitaries from other lands.

Police Detectives
This is usually an after-the-fact officer. The law enforcement officer does the arresting; you just solve the crimes. Be aware that it's hardly the glamorous job Hollywood movies would have you believe; your reality will be day-to-day mundane tasks such as collecting forensic evidence, checking background records, interviewing witnesses, and testifying in court. Police detectives are of course categorized into many department specialties. Robbery and burglary alone accounts for a very large portion of police detective work.

Correctional Officers and Jailers
Well, that's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? You'll be responsible for the care, custody, and control of inmates, whether they have been arrested and are awaiting trial or have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time in jail. A prison or jail is a controlled environment which in many ways is a microcosm of a society, with it's own challenges to face. While the controlled environment of the jail or prison will seem a more secure niche, unexpected surprises can develop - particularly in the intake zone. And when things get out of hand in a prison, they tend to escalate quickly.

Homeland Security
Responsible to prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism. Currently a high-profile job to say the least, and not for the faint of heart, but you can count on lots of federal support during this time of national crisis. You'll be working with other federal agencies as well, such as the FBI and CIA, military counter-intelligence, and the NSA. The specialties with the Department of Homeland Security include collecting and sorting data on potential threats, surveillance, investigation, and assessing and alerting other agencies to potential threats.

Private Detective/ Investigator
The number-one most mythologized profession, misrepresented in movies and television about equally with spies. As opposed to the high drama and dangerous intrigue portrayed in fiction, your typical jobs as a private investigator might include tracking cheating spouses, gathering evidence for private attorneys in civil cases, or investigating spurious claims for an insurance company. Leave your Magnum, your Porche, and your nubile blond mistresses home - but always carry a notepad and pen.

Criminal Intelligence
Well away from any street work, the criminal intelligence agent works behind the scenes, gathering data on gang members, fugitives, and organized crime and logging it into databases where it will be accessible to officers and detectives in the field. This is often an under-recognized profession but obviously essential; when the officer types a gang member's name into the computer in his patrol car and discovers the identities of the other five members of that gang, a criminal intelligence worker at the base made this possible.

Computer Crime
Not a specific specialty just yet, but dealing with the cyber-side of criminal justice is one of the most in-demand fields as the number of computers in society grows each year. You'll of course need to combine your criminal justice degree with a computer science degree. Crimes committed through or with a computer may include fraud, offensive content, harassment and hate groups, drug trafficking, and cyberterrorism. If you imagined computer viruses or email scams were perpetrated by individual kids, think again: Computer fraud and data theft is actually an international organized crime operation and a multi-billion dollar per year industry! Police departments also need forensic data analysts on hand to find and recover evidence which may be on a suspect's computer and may have been encrypted or deleted. In the future, a special department may be created within the criminal justice system to deal with this special category, as currently many police departments have to outsource their computer-related work.

This list hardly scratches the surface of every career opportunity available in the criminal justice field, but should provide a broad sample of what's out there. Far from regular street police work, there are career opportunities to satisfy every interest and skill set.
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