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What is Criminal Justice?

“To protect and serve” is a motto of police officers, but it really covers most professions in criminal justice. Although police officers and security guards are the first things people think of when criminal justice is brought up, there are many other professions and careers that fall under the umbrella of criminal justice. Basically, anyone who enters a field where the aforementioned motto applies, works in or adjacent to the criminal justice profession.

In the state of Kentucky, over 37,000 are employed in what the US Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as Protective Services. This includes police officers, probation officers, security guards, investigators, and detectives. Another 12,000 are employed as social workers, prison guards, and other jobs in which protecting the public at large is the ultimate goal. And the need for people to work in this area is increasing, with the demand expected to increase from now until 2030. So, if you have a drive and passion to help victims, right wrongs, and help people who have made mistakes accept their punishment and then return to society and decrease the recidivism rate, a career in criminal justice might be for you. Below you will find information regarding the education requirement, how to get started in the field, and a few examples of the jobs that criminal justice professionals often pursue.

A criminal justice professional is a person who works within the criminal justice system. They could work on either side of the system, be it in law enforcement that deal with those who have committed crimes or as part of the system that tries to keep people from either committing crimes in the first place or helping those who have committed crimes not to reoffend. Criminal justice professional work with a variety of people of all ages and walks of life. They investigate crimes, speak with victims and witnesses of crimes, and work with students to help them learn ways to stay away from crime. They also work with communities and train residents to spot dangers and crimes in the area.

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Criminal Justice Education in Kentucky

Depending on a person’s chosen career path, the type and level of education they need can vary. For those who want to enter law enforcement, attending a police academy is the typical approach. Officers can then opt to go to a regular university to attain more education so that they can move up in the ranks of their department. Other careers, such as social workers, must attain bachelor’s degrees and a license to work. Other careers require a combination of degrees and education. Below are some of the degree a person who wants to pursue a profession within criminal justice could pursue.

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Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

With a two-year degree in criminal justice, most people can work as police officers or prison guards. Police officers must go through the police academy, but the degree can make promotions happen more quickly.

A two-year degree in criminal justice can prepare a person to do a variety of jobs. It provides an advantage for those who plan to attend a police academy or become prison guards. A degree means that an officer can be promoted in a timelier manner than someone who does not have a degree.

Students enrolled in a two-year program will take courses on subjects such as:

  • Intro to Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Evidence and Legal Issues
  • Constitutional Law
  • Criminal Investigation

Associate degrees typically take two years to complete and when or if the student chooses, the credits earned with the associate degree can transfer to a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

How a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will help you depends on what you want to do. If you already work in the criminal justice field, moving through the ranks of your current job and being promoted are possibilities. It’s also an ideal move if you want to combine your criminal justice experience with another field such as cyber security or forensic science. You could also be eligible to teach at some community colleges and technical schools. And if you want to become a detective or move into an administrative position, a bachelor’s degree is often required.

Some of the classes included in a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice include:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Forensics
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Ethics

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

A graduate degree in criminal justice can lead to teaching positions and the training of other law enforcement personnel at academies. Those who want to move into white collar crime investigation could combine criminal justice with business and finance and work in cyber security, loss prevention, or forensic accounting. The degree also lends enough credibility to freelance as a private investigator or move into administrative positions at various law enforcement agencies.

PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

In most instances, a doctorate degree is not needed to work in criminal justice, unless someone wants to teach at the highest level or strives to become a psychologist or work as a forensics expert in some capacity. In that case, you may find that it will be useful to earn a doctorate in the field. These degrees usually take four to seven years to complete and can be found in a variety of subjects, though most students will create their own research when they begin a doctorate.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Kentucky

There are certainly some clear-cut paths for those who wish to become police officers, social workers, and other similar professionals in Kentucky. Many in criminal justice will need specific education and licensure according to the laws of the state. Police officers need to attend the police academy, social workers need a license, detectives have to spend some time as officers, etc.

Many times, people start out with one career goal and end up doing something completely different. For example, a person might start out wanting to become a police officer, but then later discover they’d rather pursue a career in social work. That said, the first thing a person should decide is what they are most interested in and pursue that path. The good thing about criminal justice careers is that switching from one profession to another is often not difficult.

Once a person has determined their desired career path, getting the required education is the next step. This step will vary depending on the career chosen. For example, a person who chooses social work will need to get a degree in social work and prepare to take a licensing exam. Meanwhile, someone who wants to enter law enforcement will take the exam for the police academy and then complete their training at the academy. Others might opt for a criminal justice degree and then choose a career that requires that degree.

Once the required education is achieved, a person is ready to begin their career. It’s usually at this point a person decides if they want to stick with their current career path or make a change. Police officers might decide to remain officer or might become parole officers or pursue another branch of law enforcement with the state police or a federal agency. Prison guards might decide to become social workers or go to the police academy and become police officers. Or, after some time in their chosen career, a person might decide to switch to education and teach criminal justice courses or train at the police academy, which would likely require you to gain more formal education, such as a master’s. There is also the option for a person working in criminal justice to go back to school and pursue a degree in law.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Forensic Accountant
    A forensic accountant is an accountant that specializes in looking for fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other types of financial malfeasance. Forensic accountants have an education in both accounting and criminal justice and are skilled at analyzing financial transactions and records and tracing assets to find out if transactions are legal or otherwise.
  • Forensic Psychologist
    Forensic psychologists are called in to evaluate those who have been accused of crimes and may be awaiting trial. These professionals help law enforcement determine if the person is competent to stand trial, among other things.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals work with attorneys. They write memos, briefs, and other legal correspondence the attorney needs completed. They also do legal research and perform office administrative duties.

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  • Probation Officer
    Probation officers works with those who have been sentenced to probation. Officers meet with probationers on a regular basis and ensure they are complying with the requirements of their probation.
  • Lab Scientist
    Lab scientists assist law enforcement by processing evidence found at crime scenes. The lab typically focuses on biological evidence and look for signatures such as DNA evidence and blood and tissue matches.
  • ATF/DoD/DEA/FBI/CIA/NSA/Secret Service Agent
    For many law enforcement officers, moving from state or local law enforcement and into federal departments is the next step. These agencies include the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), DoD (Department of Defense), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), NSA (National Security Agency), and the Secret Service. Agents in these departments each have their own set of requirements but generally pull their agents from law enforcement agencies from around the country.
  • Private Investigator
    A private investigator is a person with a background in criminal justice that opts to work independently instead of with a specific law enforcement agency. Private investigators can be hired by individuals or companies to investigate a variety of acts and crimes, from adultery to insurance fraud.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    An emergency management coordinator coordinates with local, state, and federal agencies to assist the public when a crisis occurs. Whether it’s the aftermath of a tornado, flood, hurricane, flash flood, wild or structural fire, or another disaster, the emergency management coordinator’s most important task is to ensure that all citizens are safe and their immediate and long-term needs are met. Coordinators work with first responder agencies, such as police and fire departments, as well as state and federal agencies, such as FEMA.
  • Detective
    A detective is a law enforcement professional that has risen in the ranks of his law enforcement agency. This professional starts out as a patrol officer and, after several years of experience and promotions, handles investigations into a variety of criminal acts such as murder, assault, arson, and other crimes that result in fatalities or other serious injuries. To achieve the rank of detective, additional education beyond the police academy is required as well as passing an examination.

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