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What is Criminal Justice?

If working with the public and helping people in their hours of need appeals to you, then a career in criminal justice might be worth considering. When most people think of criminal justice, they automatically think of police officers, prison guards, and probation officers. But those are just three of the many careers a person can have with a criminal justice education.

Although the terms do sound as if you’ll be working with all criminals, all the time, most first responder and emergency management careers fall under this umbrella. For example, social workers and private investigators both fall into this category, and neither necessarily work with people who have committed crimes. There are plenty of options for things to do with a criminal justice education in Connecticut.

A criminal justice professional can work on either side of the system, with either those caught up in the criminal justice system or those who have been negatively impacted by crime. There is also a subset of the profession that works with those who are going through recovery or rehabilitation, either after a period of incarceration or as part of addiction recovery. These people are trained to solve cases, help people, and ensure that justice is served for everyone. Professionals can work in jails, as officers, social workers, private investigators, and even find work at the federal level with agencies such as the CIA, FBI, and Homeland Security. There is often paperwork involved as the activities of the professionals and those they are involved with have to be chronicled. And in criminal and civil cases, appearances to court to testify are often required.

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Criminal Justice Education in Connecticut

Many people who enter the criminal justice field do so without any formal education because many of the careers in criminal justice require specialized training offered by the respective fields. Also, many who enter the field might have received the required training to work in the field while they were in the military. But that does not mean formal training that leads to a degree is not a good idea. Below you’ll find information on the degrees available in criminal justice.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for workers in the criminal justice field is going to increase between now and 2029, so this is a good time to get started on your education. There are currently over 70,000 people employed in criminal justice in some compacity in Connecticut, and in many areas the demand for more workers, such as social workers and rehabilitation specialists, is expected to grow faster than the average job growth rate. Police officers, security guards, and other protective service workers will also be in demand. And, although Connecticut’s biggest industries are finance, real estate, and other business ventures, this still means that white collar crimes have to be investigated, people with prominent careers still have substance abuse and emotional issues, children still need to be protected, and natural disasters do occur. So, whether you’re interested in protecting children or helping the state when a disaster strikes, a career in criminal justice in Connecticut could be right around the corner for you.

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Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (ADCJ)

An associate degree usually takes two years to complete and can be found at local community colleges or even online in many situations. While these degrees do not prepare students for most careers, they will provide a foundation for graduates to gain experience in the world of criminal justice or to move onto higher degree levels. With a two-year degree in criminal justice, most people can work as police officers and prison guards. Police officers have to go though the police academy, but the degree can make promotions happen more quickly.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BCJ)

A bachelor’s degree consists of around 120 credit hours and usually takes four years for students to complete if they attend full-time. While you can choose a more focused degree, such as legal studies or social work, students can also choose to earn a general criminal justice degree at this level that will help you whether you are already working in the field or just earning your education before stepping into a career.

For those already working in the criminal justice field, the four-year degree will help with promotions into the ranks of detective and management in other law enforcement agencies. This degree can also be a platform for those who want to work in IT security or cyber security, though specialized training and certifications will also be needed. Some technical schools will allow those with a four-year degree to teach as well, but for anyone wishing to move into criminal justice administration, a four-year degree is often a requirement.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MCJ)

A master’s degree or MBA will require that those applying to enter the program already have a bachelor’s degree. They may also require some experience in the field depending on what your focus is. The program, whether master’s or MBA, will require that you complete 60 credit hours of courses that cover administration and law courses. Those earning an MBA will spend more time on management; it is a master’s of business administration after all. But those in a general master’s or MBA will have the opportunity to focus on the concentration of their choice. You can tailor your learning to provide you with exactly the credentials you need to get into the field or position you want.

Those with graduate degrees in criminal justice are often geared toward teaching and training other law enforcement personnel. Someone with a criminal justice degree that also couples it with an MBA can move into forensic accounting or the financial data side of cyber security. This combination is also ideal for someone who wants to open their own private investigation firm or take over a management position in the criminal justice arena.

PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (DJC)

A PhD or doctorate is focused on providing students with greater insight into research in a particular field or a stronger grasp of their professional practice. Students may need to complete anywhere from 60-120 more credit hours for this degree, and most schools require that you also complete a thesis or dissertation before you can be granted this high-level, terminal degree. However, this will vary greatly depending on your specific field. A general, criminal justice doctorate may require 50-75 credit hours, while a law doctorate may require up to 90.

Those who wish to teach often obtain this terminal degree, as a doctorate can allow you access to tenured positions or dean seats. Graduates can teach at colleges and universities as well as specialized academies for law enforcement trainees.

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Become a Criminal Justice/Legal Professional in Connecticut

Criminal justice is a very broad field, so there are a lot of directions one could go in their career. It might help to narrow down the areas in which you want and do not want to work before you try and find your path to your optimal career. For example, if you don’t want to work within the prison system or with current or former prisoners, you’ll want to rule out jobs such as parole or probation officers, prison guards, and most law enforcement positions. If you want to help people find the services they need, then maybe a job in social work or emergency management could be ideal.

Most people who enter the field of criminal justice have an ideal of what they want to do so they tailor their education around those goals. For example, a person who wants to become a police officer might get a degree in criminal justice and then apply for the police academy either on a city, county, or state level. For those who want to work in law enforcement on the federal level, a degree and work experience in law enforcement is often required to apply. Those who want to work in the prison system can check with their state for the requirements and choose their educational path based on those requirements. Other areas of criminal justice, such as social work, forensic accounting, and crime scene investigating require specific degrees, licenses, and specialized training. It’s important to do proper research to find out what a person who wants to work in these fields needs to study to be successful.

Again, because the field of criminal justice is so broad, it is feasible that a person can start out in one area and then switch to another, sometimes without needed a lot of additional formal training. Attaining an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will provide the needed foundation for most people and they can pinpoint a specific area of the field after working within the profession for a period of time. For example, police officers might become forensic investigators, social workers could become probation or parole officers, etc. As long as the criminal justice education base is solid a person with this knowledge can go in any direction they choose.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    An emergency management coordinator takes charge after an emergency situation has been identified. The emergency could be weather related such as a tornado, forest fire, or flood, or it could be something like a pandemic or other community situation. The coordinator puts together the appropriate people and agencies to help the community deal with and recover from an emergency. They work closely with other first responders and governmental agencies to make sure the needed resources are in the proper places and that there is adequate manpower to assist with the distribution of items and information. They are also often the public face of recovery programs.
  • Forensic Accountant
    When law enforcement agencies need to find out where the money leads or where it has gone, a forensic accountant is often tapped for this task. This individual takes financial documents and records and puts together a financial roadmap for money that might have been part of illegal activities.
  • Forensic Psychologist
    A forensic psychologist uses investigative techniques, research studies, interviews, and assessments to assist with criminal cases, especially when dealing with a possibly mentally ill suspect. These individuals put together profiles of criminals that can help investigators find and capture people who have committed crimes and are also often tasked with testifying about the mental stability of a person on trial. They will often be called to crime scenes to look for clues that other investigators might miss because they are sometimes not caught by someone who is not trained to see them.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals work closely with attorneys as their assistants. They help with the preparation of cases by doing research, conducting interviews, and writing correspondence. They also prepare legal documents such as briefs, appeals, contracts, wills, and real estate closing statements.

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  • Social Work
    Social workers help struggling individuals and families get the support services they need to improve their lives. They work with and for agencies that help children, families, the elderly, veterans, and other people who are in need of help. They also diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral issues.
  • Conservation Officer
    Conservation officers are tasked with protecting the environment from those who would take advantage of it. They prevent illegal fishing and hunting on protected lands, monitor the area for possible dangers, and ensure those who are using the property have the required licenses and paperwork to do so.
  • K9 Officer
    A K9 officer is a team of a human law enforcement officer and a specially trained canine companion. They can be used in a variety of situations, from search and rescue operations to drug-related crimes and investigations.
  • Crime Scene Investigator
    Crime scene investigators collect evidence from a location where a crime was committed. They look for and gather all possible evidence to assist law enforcement in their investigation. They also interview witnesses and attempt to recreate the crime in the hopes this will assist law enforcement in finding the perpetrator.
  • Crime Scene – Forensic Science Technician
    A forensic science technician works with the evidence collected by the crime scene investigator. The analyze the materials for clues such as DNA evidence and ballistics evidence. This work is often done in a lab but some of this work, and the gathering of evidence, takes place at a crime scene.

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