What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice degrees can lead to a wide variety of employment opportunities in law enforcement and legal advocacy. As an especially versatile field, graduates develop numerous transferrable skills and are qualified for a variety of careers related to individual and community safety.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in protective service occupations is expected to increase by 3% from 2019 to 2029. While a rise in employment of this size may seem small, job outlook for this field is comparable to most other professions. The projected growth will account for approximately 95,200 new positions throughout the nation.
While protective and criminal justice services are not considered large industries in Arkansas, professions under these designations are essential for the state. According to the BLS, these occupations accounted for local 26,560 jobs in 2020. The annual mean wage for professionals in this field was $40,330, which is higher than the national median.
Understandably, the need for criminal justice professionals in Arkansas is not going to diminish. There are a wide range of employment opportunities available, as well as numerous private companies and organizations that would benefit from hiring workers with these skills. As a result, the state is home to several notable academic programs designed specifically for students pursuing a career in this field.
Criminal Justice Education in Arkansas
Despite there being many colleges and universities offering criminal justice and related degree programs, individuals who intend to work in Arkansas should seriously consider enrolling at a state school. Local institutions tend to understand the employer needs of their area better. Receiving a degree from a school in Arkansas can also provide an edge in the job market due to pre-established community relationships.
Criminal justice degrees prepare graduates for various employment opportunities related to creating and upholding societal laws, rules, and agencies meant to keep people accountable for their actions. It’s important to realize that there is no single criminal system; instead, there are numerous systems that work in tandem throughout the country and within the states. This is why criminal justice professionals have such varied job prospects. Those interested in the field can generally choose a profession that aligns well with their interests and/or passions. Some of the most prominent career types include law enforcement, the court system, politics, advocacy, and corrections.
Because criminal justice professionals can work in a wide variety of settings, their daily tasks and responsibilities can differ significantly. Even within the same system, job descriptions can differ based on state regulation. Fortunately, the skills learned through most academic programs are easily transferrable such as communication, empathy, and leadership.
Some of the most notable career paths in criminal justice include:
- Cyber Security
- Emergency Management
- Forensic Science
- Fire Science
- Homeland Security
This type of work is usually best suited for individuals who have good judgement. Criminal justice professionals must be able to determine the best way to solve a wide array of issues. The most successful specialists are also very perceptive. In many cases, some level of physical strength and stamina often required as well.
There are criminal justice employment opportunities available at the federal, state, county, and local levels, as well as in the private sector. Every career path requires a different level of education. While candidates will need a master’s degree for some positions, a high school diploma or GED may suffice for others. Knowing your ultimate career goals ahead of time can help you identify the most appropriate course of action academically. Students can choose from criminal justice programs at every academic level, from associate degrees to doctorates. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, making it essential to base enrollment on your ultimate career goals.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)
Those interested in gaining a basic introduction to the field are often satisfied by earning an associate degree in criminal justice. This level of education is generally adequate to qualify for entry-level employment opportunities in the field such as police officer, correctional officer, and private investigator. Other viable options include finding work as a security guard, surveillance specialist, fire inspector, paralegal, or legal assistant.
Most associate degrees in criminal justice consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Some accelerated options can take as little as 18 months. Course topics vary, but often cover topics such as American government, law enforcement, judicial processes, and critical thinking.
It’s also common for graduates to use associate degrees in criminal justice to gauge their overall interest in the field. Those interested in pursuing mid- to high-level careers may choose to enroll in a related bachelor’s degree program after graduation. Earning an associate degree at a local community college is often less expensive than paying to attend a traditional four-year institution. Transferring any credits earned is cheaper and can cut the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree in half.Read more about CJ Associate Programs
Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)
Some facets of the criminal justice system require professionals to have a bachelor’s degree, while others simply give preference to those who do. Because individuals with higher-level degrees are often perceived as more knowledgeable and better qualified, professionals with bachelor’s degrees tend to have an easier time finding employment.
Most bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Curriculums vary, but courses in criminology, judicial administration, and legal traditions are generally required. It’s also common for programs to emphasize the importance of research guidelines and writing.
Criminal justice bachelor’s degrees often prepare students for careers in legal studies, social services, and criminal investigation. The most accessible employment opportunities available after graduation include guidance counselor, child safety advocate, social worker, crime scene investigator, and homeland security specialist. They may also be able to apply for federal positions with the FBI and/or CIA.
Graduates can also choose to pursue advanced degrees in criminal justice. Professionals with graduate degrees usually have more employment opportunities, promote quicker, and make more money.Read more about CJ Bachelor Programs
Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MC)
Those interested in obtaining leadership roles in this field may need a master’s in criminal justice. This type of degree can help new and current professionals advance their careers significantly. Graduates often have the qualifications necessary to apply for supervisory roles and will be capable of taking on more responsibilities. As a result, they tend to earn higher salaries and promote faster.
Program lengths can vary but many criminal justice master’s degrees range from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework. Full-time students can complete requirements in two years, but part-time students will need three to five years. Coursework tends to focus more on management, data analytics, organizational strategies, and decision-making. Many colleges and university also incorporate a combination of career-related electives, internships, and research projects into their programs.Read more about CJ Master Programs
PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)
A PhD in criminal justice is ideal for those who want to conduct research, publish findings, and/or become an academic professor in the field. Students often conduct independent studies and are responsible for writing dissertations before being considered for graduation. Programs typically consist of between 50 and 75 credit hours and take full-time students about five years to complete.
Alternatively, individuals can choose to pursue a doctorate in business administration (DBA). While seemingly unrelated, this degree actually prepared students well for leadership roles within the criminal justice system. It’s a fairly common degree among upper management and executive professionals. Coursework often covers topics such as leadership theory, strategic thinking, consulting, and intervention practices. DBAs can usually be completed within six years.
Both options result in advanced mastery over theory and practice, giving graduates access to some of the best jobs in the field. The most common employment opportunities include postsecondary criminal justice professor, social service director, information systems manager, forensic scientist, and police chief.
Become a Criminal Justice in Arkansas
The first step in becoming a criminal justice professional in Arkansas is determining what part of the field interests you most. Is your ultimate career goal to work in law enforcement and the court system or are you more drawn to victim advocacy and corrections? Because there are many different areas of employment, identifying your specific aspirations will help you find the most appropriate academic program.
Most college and university programs also give students the opportunity to select a concentration as part of their degree. This tailors a portion of the program to a specific subsection or field, allowing you to explore an area of interest on a much deeper level.
Some of the most common options include:
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Homeland Security
- Legal Studies
Additionally, criminal justice programs at the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels typically incorporate internships into their graduation requirements. While these are generally unpaid, they do provide students with hands-on experience working in the field and can lead to employment after graduation.
Depending on the field you select, it may also be necessary to become licensed. For example, all private investigators in Arkansas must obtain licensure before they can begin working. The process involves working alongside a licensed private investigator and passing the state board examination. Even standard security officers must be credentialed by the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies. Other professions may have similar requirements.
Criminal justice professionals can also choose to earn certification from field-specific organizations. Research your area of interest to find the most applicable options. Many professionals also benefit from joining professional organizations. These offer many benefits, including ample opportunities to network, access to field-related resources, discounted admittance to conferences, and continuing education classes. Networking is particularly important in the criminal justice field, as the sharing of knowledge and ideas is paramount to improving cohesiveness and effectiveness.
Some of the most prominent associations, societies, and organizations include:
Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates
After earning a criminal justice degree and acquiring the necessary or preferred certifications, you will be qualified to apply for a wide variety of positions in Arkansas.
Salaries and daily duties will vary, but some of the most common career options include:
- Emergency Management Coordinator
- Forensic Accountant
- Forensic Psychologist
- Social Worker
- Conversation Officer
- K9 Officer
- Homeland Security Professional
- State Trooper
- Victim Advocate
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Police Officer
- Police Supervisor
- Corrections Officer
- Corrections Manager
- Probation Officer
- Parole Officer
- Private Investigator
- Crime Scene Investigator
- Crime Scene / Forensic Science Technician
- Lab Scientist
- Crime Prevention Specialist
- Secret Service Agent
- State Trooper / State Highway Patrol
- Criminal Justice Professor
- Social Worker
Social workers are responsible for helping patients and their families with a variety of emotional and social problems. They facilitate educational opportunities, coordinate support groups, and provide referrals. These professionals function as advocates for their patients, ensuring they have the resources necessary to help deal with their issues. According to PayScale, social workers make an average base salary of around $48,900 per year.
Paralegals are responsible for performing research for lawyers within their organizations. They provide various types of legal support services for attorneys, often assisting with filing materials, meeting with clients, and appearing in court. These professionals may also conduct interviews, edit pleadings, and help review legal documents. According to PayScale, paralegals make an average base salary of $49,000 per year.
- Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
Crime scene investigators are responsible for securing areas after a crime and performing thorough examinations for related evidence. They determine what scenes to investigate and what evidence to examine during unattended natural death, accident, suicide, and homicide cases. These professionals also supervise and monitor the work of forensic investigators. According to PayScale, crime scene investigators make an average base salary of around $48,300 per year.
- Probation Officer
Probation officers are responsible for helping criminal offenders avoid committing further misconduct. They also ensure dangerous criminals remain in prison. These professionals regularly work with law enforcement, the courts, sentencing judges, accused suspects, and convicts. According to PayScale, probation officers make an average base salary of $44,450 per year.
- Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors are responsible for diagnosing and treating people with substance use and abuse issues. They help develop individualized treatment plans, as well as pinpoint and eliminate possible triggers. These professionals meet with patients one-on-one, but can also coordinate group sessions. According to PayScale, substance abuse counselors make an average base hourly rate of $17.72, or $40,300 per year.
- State Trooper
State troopers are responsible for performing the duties of police officers, including taking suspects into custody and filing the necessary paperwork, though they have a different range of jurisdiction than city police officers. They regularly patrol assigned areas and work to obtain information about alleged crimes. These professionals can perform searches and arrests. According to PayScale, state troopers make an average base salary of $56,150 per year.
- Protective Service Occupations. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved on June 25, 2021 from:
- May 2020 State Occupational Employment and Wages Estimates Arkansas. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved on June 25, 2021 from:
- Private Investigators / Security Companies / Alarm Installation & Monitoring. Retrieved on June 25, 2021 from: