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What is Criminal Justice?

A career in criminal justice is more than just being a police officer who writes tickets and keeps the peace after football games. Criminal justice professionals can be police detectives, Alaska State Troopers, FBI agents, Justice Department agents, or may even work for the CIA, among other federal agencies. The career can also involve working with incarcerated criminals as well as those out on probation. Thus, the career can look like that of a social worker or case worker if you end up working with these persons.

Criminal justice programs also cover many other subjects and career areas. For instance, the forensic sciences, as depicted on some of television's most popular shows. Yet, graduates might also decide to apply their knowledge of criminal investigations to work as a paralegal. Yet another possibility is to use a criminal justice degree as a springboard to law school and a career as a criminal prosecutor or criminal defense attorney. There are many options.

Alaska is a diverse and exciting state that has unique needs when it comes to criminal justice. Much of the state is comprised of tribal lands, for instance, which are governed by laws separate from the rest of the state. Alaska also has a lot of open space and rural areas, but also urban centers that have issues not unlike any other city. This impacts law enforcement in a variety of ways and requires special skills that professionals in, say, Florida may not need.

This page discusses criminal justice degrees and careers in Alaska. Aspiring criminal justice professionals should consider this information carefully when making decisions about a criminal justice degree in Alaska. Though the state has a small number of programs, each is unique. Furthermore, Alaskan students should also keep in mind the opportunities available through the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which is also discussed here.

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Criminal Justice Education in Alaska

A criminal justice professional works within the criminal justice system to enforce laws, manage criminal incarceration, and hopefully rehabilitate criminals. Law enforcement professionals work in communities to keep the peace, investigate crime, and respond to emergencies. They might start as police who patrol the roads and enforce traffic laws. However, with a college degree, they can rise in rank and earn a position as a detective or greater.

Criminal justice professionals also work at a variety of different levels. Most people are familiar with the criminal justice system in their hometown. However, there are also criminal justice professionals who work at the county, state, and federal level. Professionals find ever more opportunities as they move upward from the local level. Where a local, small-town police department might barely have an IT department, the FBI employs highly skilled cyber security professionals who often have advanced degrees.

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Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

A two-year degree in criminal justice will help you launch a career with a local or county-level enforcement department. Since these positions require only a high school diploma, any college level degree should raise any resume to the top of the pile. Depending on the program, the degree may help the holder find themselves in a specialized position. For instance, some programs may focus on rehabilitation and others might have a forensics component, thus giving students the knowledge and credentials they need to succeed.

After a few years in the field, a criminal justice professional might consider earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Those who start out with a two-year associate degree in criminal justice are already halfway there. Thus, an associate degree might be the optimal degree to use as a springboard to a long and successful career in criminal justice.

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Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

In order to start a career making the best salary and in a position that enables the best long-term success, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is the way to go. A full undergraduate degree provides students enough time to delve deeper into the subject and to even focus on a specialization such as forensics, criminal psychology, or public administration.

Those with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice might even seek out a position at the state or federal level. Four-year colleges and universities often have resources that enable students to dive deep into subjects such as financial crimes, cyber security, and even the social work and public policy aspects of criminal justice. In fact, many budding criminal defense attorneys start with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice, especially in programs that provide a focus on criminal laws.

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Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MC)

For those who wish to rise up in the ranks of their criminal justice system, a master’s degree in criminal justice, or even an MBA, can help them achieve higher pay and position. Those who opt for an MBA might choose to choose public administration or policy for their concentration. Meanwhile, the basic business training you’ll receive in an MBA program will come in handy when it comes to budgeting and overall organizational management.

Another option is to find a Dual MBA program that pairs a business administration education with a second graduate degree. These programs are proliferating throughout academia since they provide the option of completing two highly sought graduate degrees in about three years of intense work and study. This route might be perfect for those who wish to apply their criminal justice studies to a private security firm. There are also dual MPA/MSCJ degree programs that pair public administration with criminal justice. Students can also pair graduate studies in public policy with a law degree. Criminal justice professionals who desire a career in politics might prefer this option as it builds on their professional experience while allowing for great expansion later.

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PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

The ultimate degree is the PhD. Doctors of criminal justice can rise to the top of the leadership ladder in their current criminal justice system if that is their goal. There are other options available for those who hold a doctorate in criminal justice. For instance, with a PhD in criminal justice, professionals can join an independent think-tank organization that studies the criminal justice system from a variety of viewpoints. This work is then published as highly valued studies that private security and public criminal justice systems use to help improve their work. Doctorate-level criminal justice professionals can also work as independent consultants who visit with local, state, and even federal law enforcement agencies to help them improve their approach to enforcement and incarceration.

Another career option with a PhD is to enter academia as a professor. The doctorate degree will help criminal justice professionals land full-time and even tenure track teaching positions. Professors also take side work as consultants for law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Alaska

To become a criminal justice professional in Alaska, the first thing a person needs is a desire to work in public service. Though criminal justice professionals make good salaries, this desire implies that the career will be more about helping communities than necessarily benefiting one's own bank account. This desire can come from a lot of places. Some people grow up watching police procedural dramas on television and are inspired by the keen detective work and awesome car chases. Others might like a subset of this genre, the increasingly popular forensics shows which follow in the footsteps of classic shows such as Quincy, M.E.

There are a few ways to approach this general field. Those with only a high school diploma can apply to their local police department and enter a local academy. However, a better move would be to enroll in a community college or online university and work toward an associate degree in criminal justice. This approach should help find more employment opportunities as well as an optimal position in a police department, the Alaska State Troopers, or a top security firm.

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Students with a bit more time and ambition should seek a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. This approach will open up more employment opportunities while also enabling a faster rise in the ranks. With a full four-year undergraduate degree, criminal justice professionals can start out at the detective level of their local police department. They might even find employment opportunities in a larger city such as Fairbanks or Juneau.

Finally, another way to become a criminal justice professional in Alaska is to start out in the military. Professionals who land jobs as military police will have the training and experience necessary to thrive in a police department. Former MPs might also submit their resumes to private security firms that offer protection to individuals and organizations that need protection.

The Western Exchange Program and Alaska

Students in the Western portion of the United States have a special opportunity for funding their college education, including those in Alaska. That is the Western Undergraduate Exchange program (WUE). This program offers students in Alaska to enroll in public colleges and universities elsewhere in that system. Thus, Alaskan students who are accepted to the program can venture off to California, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, or Colorado, to name a few. Then, rather than paying out-of-state tuition, which is often double in-state fees, Alaskans can pay the same as the residents of whichever state they choose. While Alaska's university system offers great programs for criminal justice students, this program opens up a wide array opportunities that Alaska does not support.

Naturally, one drawback to this program is the need to travel to the target school, but that is a small problem when considering the opportunities available. After all, this program makes schools such as UC Berkeley, University of Washington, Oregon University, and UCLA all within the reach of Alaska's students.

Top College Programs in Alaska for Criminal Justice

  • University of Alaska at Fairbanks:
    Alaskan undergraduate students will find that the criminal justice program at UAF prepares them for a bright future in law enforcement, corrections, or private security. The program prepares its students to work within the particularly unique Alaskan culture, which includes tribal lands and laws.
  • University of Alaska Southeast:
    Students at UAS can enter the school's comprehensive justice degree program. The course offerings include topics that are standard for any criminal justice department in the United States, but they also feature Alaska-specific courses that address issues which are particular to the state.
  • University of Alaska Anchorage:
    UAA offers students a bachelor's degree in justice. Students can work on this degree on the Anchorage campus or on one of many campuses statewide. UAA also offers courses in the justice department through its online portal. Thus, working criminal justice professionals in, say, Barrow can earn a bachelor's degree while still taking a bite out of crime.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Police/Corrections/Probation/Parole Officer:
    These careers are perhaps the most visible in the criminal justice spectrum. Criminal justice professionals typically need only a high school diploma to begin their careers at this level, though an associate justice degree program will help them begin with a stronger foundation. To start work as a police officer, students will need to complete the cadet training, which can be physically and emotionally demanding.
  • Private Investigator:
    Though the requirements for this profession are few, students who complete a full degree program in criminal justice will have unique training that will help in their work. Furthermore, private investigators who can boast a degree in criminal justice may have a better shot at landing clients. Larger firms may also require either a degree or significant experience in the field.
  • Crime Scene Investigator/Technician:
    This field is for those who love laboratory work as much as they do catching criminals and solving seemingly impossible puzzles. Thus, those who have a talent for biology and who aren't squeamish handling blood or visiting grisly crime scenes are particularly well-suited to this line of work. Keep in mind that the Hollywood version of this field may be a bit over-dramatized and idealized.
  • Crime Prevention Specialist:
    Of all the professionals in the criminal justice world, crime prevention specialists may be the ones who protect citizens the most. Criminal justice professionals who choose this line of work will find themselves working with communities on initiatives that seek to identify the source of criminal activity and to stem its spread before tragedy strikes.
    Federal law enforcement agents are typically thought of as the elite in the field. These criminal justice professionals often have a college degree, if not a master's degree. CIA analysts, for instance, may have bachelor degrees in political science and master's degrees in international relations that allow them to work toward fighting terrorism.

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  • Detective:
    These professionals often start as police officers and then earn a detective shield through hard work, but they may also get a head start by earning a degree. A bachelor's or master's degree in criminal justice will help any law enforcement agent rise to this rank. Detectives typically are assigned to special departments such as homicide, vice, or even white-collar crimes.
  • State Trooper/State Highway Patrol:
    Law enforcement has many levels. In Alaska, officers can work at the city, county, or state level. Alaska State Troopers are not only a power on the highways, but they also investigate state-level crimes. Thus, when a crime spans multiple counties, the Alaska State Troopers may get involved. They also conduct search and rescue missions, which can be quite treacherous in Alaska's back country.
  • Criminal Justice Professor:
    This position requires a master's degree in criminal justice as a minimum standard. It will also help to have years of experience in law enforcement, but a PhD is more likely to land a full-time job teaching at the college level. Criminal justice professors might also take on outside jobs to consult with police departments or other government agencies on matters that pertain to their research specialty.

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