9 Most Asked Questions About Criminal Justice

Solving crimes, determining guilt or innocence, punishing the guilty, counseling victims and offenders are all elements of our nation’s vast criminal justice system that employs millions of people.

Sorting out crime and punishment in the United States involves multiple agencies and a multitude of processes under various jurisdictions – city, county, state, tribal, federal or military.

But each typically includes the three components of our criminal justice system: law enforcement, the courts and corrections.

The complexity and size of the criminal justice system means an array of career possibilities in all branches of the system.

Below are the most asked questions about the U.S. criminal justice system:

How do I become an FBI agent?

There are many career avenues with the FBI ranging from special agent to analyst or IT.

Though law enforcement experience is not a requirement to become a special agent, the bureau does require all applicants to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.

The FBI does not specify a field of study, but a degree in criminal justice, accounting or information technology may be of benefit to an applicant.

Those who meet the eligibility requirements and advance in the hiring process eventually receive training at the FBI Academy in Virginia where their studies include investigative techniques and the criminal justice system.

Applicants for special agent need to apply through the FBI field office that covers where they live, are going to college or where they work, the agency’s website said.

Are social workers part of the criminal justice system?

State and federal agencies grappling with jail and prison overcrowding turn to social workers who provide treatment inside prison and after release to reduce recidivism.

Many social workers work in correctional facilities and probation departments in the court system. Others work with faith-based agencies and with health care agencies to provide counseling and monitoring for those not in jail.

How many law enforcement officers work in the United States?

More than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers serve in the United States, and about 12% of them are women, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund website.

There were about 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States, according to a 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

What physical requirements are there in criminal justice careers?

While there are no physical fitness requirements to study for a degree in criminal justice, any applicant for law enforcement – such as police officer, FBI special agent, corrections officer, drug enforcement agent or Secret Service agent – should be prepared to face a battery of tests measuring fitness and strength.

Because many of these careers can have intense physical demands, applicants are likely to face tests involving sprints, sit-ups, pushups and distance running as well as marksmanship. Candidates should consider a physical fitness program well in advance of applying to a law enforcement academy.

What are the advantages of getting a criminal justice degree online?

One of the key benefits of online study is scheduling flexibility. Many students have other obligations, such as family and work. Taking a class online does not require the student to be in a certain place at an assigned time, so a student who works can opt to view a video lecture before work, during lunch or after work.

For those already working in law enforcement but looking to further their education, the online learning environment may be a shift-friendly alternative.

This flexibility also allows students to set their own pace and avoid the cost of commuting to class.

Are there other federal law enforcement agencies besides the FBI, Secret Service and DEA?

While the three mentioned above have a high profile, there are other federal law enforcement agencies with important tasks. Among them are:

  • ATF: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms works to protect citizens from firearm trafficking, illicit explosives, terrorism and bootleg and untaxed tobacco and alcohol.
  • CIA: The Central Intelligence Agency collects and analyzes data to thwart threats to national security and to safeguard information that protects U.S. citizens.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection: This agency monitors and protects the borders of the United States.
  • U.S. Marshal Service: The enforcement arm of the federal courts pursues federal fugitives, manages and sells the seized assets of criminals, transports federal prisoners and runs the Witness Security Program.

In all, there are nearly 45 federal law enforcement agencies.

What criminal justice careers are in corrections and rehabilitation?

Corrections officer is the most commonly recognized position working with inmates. Beyond monitoring and escorting inmates and searching cells, these officers need diverse skills such as effective communication and the ability to deftly resolve conflicts.

Other penal system career paths include case manager, social worker, director, pretrial services, community liaison, parole officer, supervisory positions and warden.

What are some criminal justice careers not in law enforcement?

Not all criminal justice majors want to work in law enforcement as an officer on the streets. And there are roles for them:

  • Social worker: These professionals work with individuals, families and small groups to teach them how to resolve conflict and lead effective daily lives. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field will grow by more than 102,000 jobs by 2026.
  • Substance-abuse counselor: Drug and alcohol counselors talk with people to discover the reasons behind their substance use and help them learn how it affected their lives.
  • Court reporter: Court reporters detail the events taking place inside the courtrooms. A premium is placed on providing accurate, unbiased information that will be used throughout the justice system and in public domains.

What other career fields besides law enforcement are possible with a criminal justice degree?

Those who earn a degree in criminal justice have studied quite a bit about human behavior, so it may open many doors to numerous career fields beyond the obvious in law enforcement and corrections.

  • Investigator: Using research, investigation and observational skills, someone with a degree in criminal justice may want to consider work as a private investigator. Private investigators may be hired by citizens but may also work for commercial entities such as finance institutions, banks and insurance companies. These organizations may want surveillance or research to verify information or to investigate possible fraudulent claims.
  • Paralegal: The justice system is filled with lawyers, most of whom require the assistance of paralegals. A paralegal is someone with the educational background — part of which may include a degree such as criminal justice — to carry out a number of tasks associated with the representation of clients. They help research points of law, in filing petitions and navigating the various parts of the legal system.


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