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What is Criminal Justice?
A criminal justice professional is a worker who focuses their efforts on solving crimes, rehabilitating criminals, and working to prevent crime rates from rising. They often start their career with an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. The profession thus includes professionals starting with those in the local police department including patrol officers, detectives, and sergeants. From there, state level law enforcement includes state patrol officers and higher-level investigators. The state level includes forensic investigators who analyze crime scenes and who operate crime labs.
Criminal Justice professionals also work in the corrections system where they serve as prison guards, counselors, probation officers, and case workers. They might even work as social workers who try to engage people in ways that foster positive behavior and thus a reduced crime rate. Some even take their criminal justice degree and go to work as a paralegal for a criminal defense attorney.
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Online Criminal Justice Education in Michigan
Michigan's vibrant and diverse economy has its backbone in manufacturing, where it creates automobiles and automotive parts, among other products. Michigan's economy is also led by professional services, real estate, healthcare, wholesale and retail trade, as well as finance. To help ensure that these industries operate smoothly, the state maintains a strong criminal justice infrastructure that includes police officers, corrections officials, and probation professionals.
Behind the scenes on all of this law enforcement activity are the unique laws and sentencing guidelines that Michigan's judicial system uses to see that crimes are dealt with appropriately. While Michigan may be similar to many other states in terms of how it handles its criminals, it does have specific nuances that law enforcement and legal professionals must be aware of. For this reason, it's important for Michiganders to earn a criminal justice degree from a college or university in the state.
Thus, Michigan's colleges and universities have developed criminal justice programs that prepare their students to tackle challenges at either the state or federal level. Instructors in Michigan's criminal justice departments have often built a career in Michigan's law enforcement or legal system. While such experience isn't necessary for an effective college instructor or professor, it helps when an instructor can use real world scenarios to illustrate ideas and concepts. They may also have insights into how certain laws or procedures evolved into their current form.
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Michigan's educational institutions are also evolving with the times. These days, Michigan students can pursue their criminal justice degrees either in-person or via online classrooms. Both the online and traditional courses are taught by the same highly qualified professionals, so a remote student can log into a class and receive the same excellent education as anyone. This way, a student may be able to complete an associate criminal justice degree via online media and then transfer to the four-year institution of their choosing when they wish to complete their bachelor’s degree.
Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)
An associate criminal justice degree provides students with a foundation on which to start a career. Since there are no degree requirements to become a corrections officer or an entry-level police officer, this degree should offer the holder an advantage when it comes time to apply. There are also many associate criminal justice degrees available online, thus allowing students to gain experience in the criminal justice system while studying for their degree.
An associate criminal justice degree is also advantageous from a financial standpoint. Community college tuition and fees are typically far more affordable than nearly any four-year institution. Students who are seeking a full bachelor’s degree can start with an associate degree and thus dramatically reduce their long-term debt obligations. On top of that, Michigan has community colleges scattered throughout the state, so students are likely to find an associate criminal justice degree program in their local area, thus removing the need to move away.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)
A bachelor’s criminal justice degree is perhaps the best choice for students seeking a career in the criminal justice system. For those who are interested in joining their local police force, a bachelor’s criminal justice degree will help them become officers and then detectives. It can also be helpful for those who want to work in public administration. There are also many who use their bachelor’s criminal justice degree to become paralegals for criminal defense attorneys.
A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is also a strong background for those who are interested in law school and a career as criminal defense attorneys, or even those who want to work as district attorneys. It also is a launchpad for a master’s degree in public administration or even an MBA with a concentration in leadership, public administration, or management. Thus, a bachelor’s criminal justice degree is built for students who want to make it to the top.
Online Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MA)
A master’s criminal justice degree is a ticket to very important, high-status positions in law enforcement. In fact, there are at least two directions to take a master’s criminal justice degree – forensics or administration. Forensics students who earn a master’s degree can rise to the top of their laboratory. They will have the scientific knowledge and expertise needed to not only assess evidence from a crime scene, but they may be called to testify in court. Their master’s degree and professional status will give them credibility for the judge and jury.
For those who want a career in administration, there are a few options. A criminal justice master’s degree can often be sufficient. Many will take a slight turn and earn a master’s public administration degree or even an MBA. While an MBA may seem like an unusual choice, students can complete the degree with a concentration such as public administration or even criminal justice. This way, they are prepared to work as managers and administrators of a police department or elsewhere in the criminal justice system.
Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)
A PhD in criminal justice is rather rare in the job market. Since master’s degrees are increasingly popular, a doctorate degree may be the best way to differentiate one's resume when it comes time to apply for a forensics or administrative position. However, PhDs in criminal justice may do best in governmental positions. They could possibly find work in the upper reaches of federal law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, or others. They might also find work in think-tanks where their research is highly valued by people in government and even business.
A PhD in criminal justice also can be put to use by consultants. A PhD holder might be able to audit a state or local law enforcement agency, for instance, and provide recommendations for how it can improve its work. They might also take a different approach and evaluate that agency's city to help them pinpoint areas where law enforcement needs to pay more attention.
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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Michigan
To become a criminal justice professional in Michigan, students can start with any degree level that suits them. Those with a high school diploma can join their local police department, after completing the cadet training, of course. This can be a terrific entry-level position for those who have a passion for law enforcement. As a police officer on patrol, or even as a prison guard, students can gain a clear perspective on their field. While film and television may portray law enforcement every night, the realities can be quite different.
An associate degree is the next avenue to life in law enforcement or corrections. Some may even be able to use their associate criminal justice degree to start working as a paralegal with a criminal defense attorney or with the local district attorney's office. Paralegals can perform a wide range of tasks for a law firm. They often help prepare briefs and other court documents, but they can also work with the court docket and some conduct investigations for their attorney.
A bachelor’s degree is perhaps the ideal degree level to attain. Michigan law enforcement agencies will acknowledge the work and candidates will be qualified for more pay and higher status. Many criminal justice students use their criminal justice degree to become detectives on their local police force. There are also bachelor’s criminal justice degrees that focus on evidence collection and forensics. While a master’s degree is optimal for a forensics professional, a bachelor’s degree can launch a career and provide the holder with options for later growth and professional development.
Criminal justice professionals might also work with a master’s degree. Those who love laboratory work and would be comfortable dealing with blood, fiber, and DNA samples should plan to gain an appropriate degree in that area. Others may look more toward a career in administration. They can pursue a master’s public administration degree or perhaps an MBA with a concentration in public administration. There is also the opportunity to earn a master’s criminal justice degree, which will likewise help a person move up the ladder in Michigan law enforcement.
Potential Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates
- Forensic Accountant:
These crime fighters don't wear capes, carry weapons, or drive around with flashing lights on their cars. Rather, these criminal justice professionals use their accounting skills to root out white collar, financial crimes. They may go after tax-avoidant mobsters or parties in a divorce case who are seeking to hide assets from their former spouse.
- Forensic Psychologist:
These psychology professionals can perform a variety of functions in the criminal justice system. Some work with law enforcement to create a profile for serial or spree killers. They can also assess defendants in a criminal case to determine their competency. They are also very helpful for parole boards who need to assess a psychological profile prior to allowing clemency.
A criminal justice degree is a great preparation for a career as a paralegal. Paralegals prepare legal documents for their attorneys, file briefs and motions at court, and even prep clients for depositions. Paralegals may also be called to work as de facto investigators. Students who desire a career in the legal field should focus their criminal justice coursework on criminal law.
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- Social Work:
A background in criminal justice will be very helpful for some social work agencies. Social workers help their clients find the resources they need and counsel them towards healthier choices. With a criminal justice background, work with the corrections department may be a good choice.
- Substance Abuse Counselor:
In Michigan, substance abuse counselors can work with an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s addiction counseling degree. Those with undergraduate degrees will not be able to conduct one-on-one counseling or psychoanalysis, but their licensure is enough to support a great career.
- Victim Advocate:
Since there is so much emphasis placed on the perpetrators of crime, there is a need for those who will advocate for the victims of crime. This is particularly true in cases where the victim is a child. Advocates ensure that their client's needs are met in terms of adequate protection and legal representation. They seek to support their client's emotional and physical well-being in the wake of a crime.
- Homeland Security Professional:
The Department of Homeland Security arose in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11. These law enforcement professionals work to thwart the efforts of terrorists or others who threaten the national interests and infrastructure of the United States.
- Corrections Officer:
Corrections officers work in jails and prisons and ensure the safety and security of the inmates there. This is a demanding job that helps to keep both prisoners and the wider society safe. Not all corrections officers work in a general prison population, however. Some work as administrators or guards who monitor the prison from the vantage of a prison tower.
- Probation Officer:
Probation officers oversee those who are allowed to live outside of prison walls but may not have yet fully paid their debt to society. These officers work with their caseload to ensure that everyone is staying within the restrictions set as terms of their release. For instance, they make sure that people are avoiding negative influences, holding a job, and not committing any more crimes.