What to Expect as you Earn an AA in Criminal Justice

In communities across the United States, criminal justice professionals work tirelessly to make society safer by investigating, prosecuting and rehabilitating individuals accused of crime – and by creating a stronger social network that deters crime in the first place.

An associate degree in criminal justice can be a smart step toward a career in the field.

What makes criminal justice intriguing is that it isn’t just about crime itself. Successful professionals may need to understand psychology, social science and human motivation to better understand why people commit crimes and how to reduce criminal activity. An Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice provides a foundation for a variety of options from law enforcement to social work. Some common roles include police officers, correctional officers, detectives, security guards and private investigators.

Is Criminal Justice What I See on TV?

Careers in criminal justice look glamorous on TV. Shows like CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds show law enforcement agencies with generous budgets and absorbing story lines. What’s more, each case is wrapped up in 60 minutes with a tidy ending.

These Hollywood depictions do not capture the realities of criminal justice cases, which often take time to solve and don’t always end with a cut-and-dried conclusion. In real life, criminal justice is more meticulous and grounded than anything shown on TV — and it can be much more gratifying and satisfying as well.

What Do You Need to Know about Criminal Justice

Criminal justice professionals will need good communication and teamwork skills, as they will often collaborate and need to share information with other team members. Conducting and understanding research are also important, as well as familiarity with the latest techniques and technologies used in the field. Strong ethical grounding and empathy skills will guide professionals through difficult decisions. Some of the key concepts covered in a criminal justice program:

  • Criminology The course investigates how law enforcement approaches and techniques have evolved in the United States, from its founding to the introduction of organized crime in the early 1920s to today’s challenges related to terrorism. Students also learn the concept of due process, which promotes fair and consistent treatment of people accused of a crime.
  • Criminal Law – The course walks students through the criminal trial process, from the initial investigation through the appeals and post-conviction process. The course will also cover the legal definition of criminal activity, the implications of seizing property and some of the legal defenses employed by defendants.
  • Corrections Students examine the evolution of punishment, from corporal and physical punishment to the concept of prisons as a place to reform criminals. The instructor will discuss the issues related to the increase in the U.S. prison population, and the use of probation, parole, drug courts and other diversionary methods.
  • Ethics – The criminal justice ethics course looks at the best ways for law enforcement officials to discern right and wrong in situations that may not appear as black and white. Students will learn about the role of ethics in all dimensions of criminal justice, and should expect discussions about controversial topics such as race and class relations, capital punishment, drug policy and gun control.
  • Current and Emerging Trends in Criminal Justice Students will learn about modern advancements and trends in law enforcement. The professor will talk about the structure and operations of police organizations, current investigative rules and techniques, how different policing roles interact, the use of coercive force, and the concept of community policing. The course includes discussion about recent technology advancements and current challenges facing police professionals.
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