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What is Criminal Justice?

Illinois criminal justice jobs come in many shapes and sizes. The first thought many have when they hear the term ‘criminal justice’ is of a police officer in a patrol car. While they may have perhaps the highest profile in our lives, these criminal justice professionals are just one part of the whole spectrum. Even in a local police department, there are detectives, corrections personnel, dispatch professionals, and more.

An Illinois criminal justice degree can also help people launch careers in many other areas, some of which might not immediately come to mind. For instance, many paralegals learn about criminal law in their criminal justice degree program prior to working for an attorney. Social workers may also get their academic foundation in a criminal justice department where they learn about the social implications of crime and justice. Even many Illinois attorneys earn their bachelor’s criminal justice degree from an Illinois college or university.

Sadly, Illinois is not immune to the problems associated with crime. Chicago, for instance, is reportedly rife with crime these days and is in need of people to help stem the tide of that social problem. Elsewhere in the state, criminal justice professionals are working hard to safeguard their communities from the ravages of the opioid and methamphetamine epidemics, among other criminal activities.

Thus, colleges and universities throughout Illinois have created criminal justice programs to help populate the state with highly qualified criminal justice professionals. Starting with the community college systems, Illinois students can pursue a diploma that will lead to a career as a police officer, private investigator, probation officer, security professional, or paralegal, among other possible career choices.

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Criminal Justice Education in Illinois

For those who prefer a bachelor’s criminal justice degree, Illinois' University systems offer degrees that can meet any need.

Those who are interested in becoming the next great forensic scientist can find the degree for them. These colleges and universities are also large enough to offer more programs that can support long-term goals in fields such as forensic accounting, forensic psychology, or cyber security.

Ultimately, Illinois college students have much to look forward to when it comes to a criminal justice degree. Not only can they focus their studies in very specific ways and pursue advanced master’s degrees, or even doctorate criminal justice degrees, but they will also find jobs to make those degrees worthwhile.

An Illinois criminal justice professional might be someone who works in law enforcement, criminal corrections, or some private concern such as investigations or private security. For every one of these career types, the goal is to protect the public from criminals and crime in general. These professionals can hold a variety of degrees and other credentials that run the gamut from a high school diploma clear through to a master’s criminal justice degree, or even a doctorate. Some even begin in criminal justice and move into a law-focused degree, eventually working as lawyers within the court side of the criminal justice system.

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Criminal justice professionals in Illinois can also work in a range of environments. Many are patrol police who work with the general public and who are first on the scene when a crime occurs. Others work inside prisons as guards, counselors, or administrators. There are even criminal justice professionals who work as counselors to criminals from the standpoint of parole or probation but also as forensic psychologists. And, of course, those who work in the courts as bailiffs, paralegals, attorneys, judges, and more. Thus, a criminal justice degree holder can choose their working environment based on the focus of their degree and their career aspirations.

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (ADCJ)

A two-year online associate criminal justice degree is a terrific first hurdle on the way to success in criminal justice. Criminal justice students in community colleges can learn a lot about the criminal justice system in a two-year program while also completing the core college curriculum they will need when they return for a four-year bachelor’s criminal justice degree in Illinois. That is, an associate degree requires much or all of the math, composition, and science courses that bachelor’s degree programs require.

Not only will students gain a foothold in the criminal justice system with their associate criminal justice degree, but they will be ahead in other ways, too. The most obvious advantage to an associate criminal justice degree is the price. Community college credit hours are typically much cheaper than those from a four-year college or university. Criminal justice students also benefit from smaller class sizes and faculty who are focused more on teaching than on their own research.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BCJ)

A bachelor’s criminal justice degree online is a terrific starting point for many careers. For instance, with a bachelor’s criminal justice degree, many graduates enter the legal field as paralegals. Others may decide that they want to work as private investigators in Illinois. There are still many other options for law enforcement professionals in Illinois.

In police departments, the detective badge is a coveted achievement that typically only goes to those with a full bachelor’s criminal justice degree. A bachelor’s degree may also be helpful for those who enter into corrections as probation officers or parole professionals or for those criminal justice students who enroll in law school with the goal of becoming criminal attorneys, whether on the defense or prosecutorial side. Bachelor’s holders in criminal justice can also use their undergraduate degrees as a launchpad for other graduate degree programs.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MCJ)

For those criminal justice professionals who are eager to take their careers to the next level, there are master’s criminal justice degree programs to facilitate that. Criminal justice professionals might also want to branch into a related field for their master’s degree, depending on their long-term aspirations. For instance, rather than a master’s criminal justice degree in Illinois, some may opt for a MS in public police or public administration. Others may be involved with law enforcement forensics so may prefer a more science-oriented degree to help them assess evidence.

There are also options to work on an MBA with a concentration in public administration, criminal justice, or public policy. This can be a great choice for those who are working in private security firms but also for those in local, state, or federal government. Yet another graduate degree option is the dual MBA where students complete an MBA alongside another degree such as a master’s criminal justice degree, a MS in public policy, or an MS in public administration.

PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (DCJ)

A PhD is a degree that lives at the very peak of academic achievement. It's not common for criminal justice students to take their studies this far, but those that do reap great rewards. The coursework at the doctorate level is far beyond anything they have likely encountered before, and it will demand even deeper thought and research. Then the dissertation will hone their research skills, as well as their thinking on the specific subject they are studying. Some students take their dissertation work and apply it in their career, or they use it to move into a new field, such as teaching.

A PhD in criminal justice may have its best and highest use in academia. Those who love studying and intellectual pursuits should consider this path. With a PhD, they will be in high demand from colleges who need strong criminal justice departments. Those schools can offer tenure track positions to those who hold doctorate degrees, so this degree will pay off with job security and healthy paychecks. Furthermore, a full professor will enjoy working with students of all levels.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Illinois

Criminal justice is a field that most professionals say they felt called to. Maybe they grew up in a crime ridden area in Illinois and wish to return home with the tools to help their community. Maybe the police helped them or their family in a way that was particularly inspiring. Others may be drawn to the thrill of the chase and wish to emulate fictional heroes like Sherlock Holmes, Columbo, or Jessica Fletcher. The more scientifically minded may be inspired by the wild popularity of the CSI television shows and wish to spend time solving crime by analyzing human and other evidence.

The drive to become a criminal justice professional can begin early. Some become attracted to the profession as early as age 8, where they might play cops and robbers with their friends. Their first glimpse into the field may be through helpful police in their community and they may also receive encouragement from parents who hold the police in high esteem. On top of this, they may start showing talents that will help them later on.

Budding criminal justice professionals in Illinois may exhibit keen analytical minds and an ability to interpret human behaviors that is a cut above their peers. They may excel in their science and math courses but may also have a fondness for literature and history. Later on in high school they may become intrigued with the law and how our courts system works. Many are still likely to maintain an extracurricular fascination with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

In high school, criminal justice afficionados may consider joining their school debate team where they will learn skills that will help them later on. The tactics in debate may help those who wish to later become attorneys, and all will benefit when the time comes to testify in court. High school students might also consider taking elective courses such as sociology or psychology. Those who are intrigued by forensic science should focus on biology as much as possible.

When it comes time for college, those who have laid a firm foundation in high school will have a better idea of what specific direction they wish to take their criminal justice studies. They can then seek out programs that focus on forensic science, criminal law, or a more general criminal justice curriculum. When they graduate with a bachelor’s criminal justice degree, they’ll be ready to enter exciting, fulfilling careers.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    These public administration officials are becoming all the more important as our nation faces weather emergencies on a yearly basis. These professionals may work at the local level to help coordinate the efforts of local police and firemen so that true disaster can be averted. They can work with federal agencies, too, such as FEMA or perhaps the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Forensic Accountant
    While accountancy may not be what we all think of when we first consider criminal justice, forensic accountants are a large part of catching crooks. These accounting masters can investigate the finances of businesses and individuals to help catch embezzlers, money launderers, and tax evaders. Consider that Al Capone was never convicted of any crime but tax fraud, and forensic accountants were responsible for that.

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  • Forensic Psychologist
    The field of psychology is diverse enough that it even extends into the criminal justice realm. Forensic psychologists work with criminals, victims, law enforcement officials, and the judicial system. They might spend a lot of time working on contracts with their local system of corrections to help determine if a convict is ready for parole or probation. They may also help police profile as yet unknown criminals.
  • Paralegal
    Criminal justice is a great background for a paralegal, especially one who is intrigued with criminal law. Since paralegals can work in an investigatory capacity, a professional with an associate criminal justice degree may find themselves working in a very exciting job. Most paralegals work on drafting briefs, motions, and making filings with the court, among other duties. Though some go to school specifically for paralegal studies, a criminal justice degree should be helpful.
  • Social Work
    This is a great option for a criminal justice degree holder who wishes to help prevent crime. Social workers who have a master of social work degree may work as counselors for criminals or their victims. Those with a bachelor’s social work degree may find many opportunities to help troubled youth, folks on probation, and many others.
  • Homeland Security Professional
    This is a federal level law enforcement job that will probably require at least a bachelor’s criminal justice degree. There are also degrees in Homeland Security specifically, which may be of interest. This agency recruits and hires criminal justice professionals with a variety of specialties including cyber security, forensic accounting, forensic science, and more.
  • K9 Officer
    Criminal justice professionals who love animals will be in heaven with this job. K-9 officers work with canines to train them to find drugs, track suspects, and more. While they probably spend more time in the kennels helping the dogs perfect their skills, they are also called to crime scenes or to help track missing persons.
  • Private Investigator
    Film, literature, and television history is full of private investigators. From Sherlock Holmes to Magnum PI, fictional PIs have inspired many to enter criminal justice, including the private investigation field. These professional’s investigatory skills are used to root out embezzlement schemes, cheating spouses, and even to find missing persons, including the parents of adopted people. This field requires an inquisitive mind, keen research skills, and the willingness to take on significant risk.

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