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What is Criminal Justice?

When most people think of criminal justice, they think of two things: cops and lawyers. Although these are two common careers in criminal justice, they barely scratch the surface of possible careers in the field. There are many professions that are part of the criminal justice system that many people don’t think about. So, if you are interested in helping people but the idea of putting on a gun and badge doesn’t interest you and you aren’t keen on the idea of becoming an attorney, there are other options. Interesting fact: not everyone working in criminal justice started there. Many people had other professions but, through interesting circumstances, they ended up working in criminal justice. This includes technology professionals, accountants, medical professionals, and a host of other people who had careers that they never thought would result in a career in criminal justice.

In the state of Minnesota, the top three industries are manufacturing, business and professional services, and real estate. But also in the top ten is information. For those interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice, there could easily be some crossover between information technology and criminal justice. Opportunities to work in the other top industries also exist, especially in the area of white-collar crimes. There are 41,000 people employed in the criminal justice field in the state of Minnesota. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these people make an average of $56,000 per year. Also according to BLS, the need for people in protective services (the section of the labor force where criminal justice is listed), is expected to increase faster than average. This is mainly due to attrition and people who move from one criminal justice profession to another. So, if you want to go work for the good guys and help make a difference in the world, keep reading. Below is some information to help you make a decision about your career choice. There are educational options, hints on how to get your career started, and an example of some of the jobs you could look for once you’re ready to start your career in criminal justice.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in Minnesota

A criminal justice professional works in the criminal justice field. It would be easy to equate criminal justice with law enforcement and leave it at that, but there are many positions in the field of criminal justice that does not include patrolling the streets. Social workers, accountants, and scientists can also find careers in the criminal justice system and work with investigators, victims, and federal, state, and local departments. If you are interested in how the legal system works and you want to be part of the process in some way, there is a good chance there’s a career in criminal justice that is right for you.

The amount of education needed to become a criminal justice professional in Minnesota depends on the career being considered. Law enforcement professionals aren’t required to have a formal education to enter the police academy, but to progress further in their law enforcement career, additional education, like a criminal justice degree might be required. On the other hand, those who work in social work or in forensics are required to have a formal education. Below are the options that most criminal justice professionals pursue.

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Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

With a two-year degree in criminal justice, most people can work as police officers and 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 such as:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Eyewitness Testimony

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.

Online 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 is easier with a bachelor’s degree. It’s also a step worth considering if you want to combine your criminal justice experience with another field, such as cyber security or forensic science. Teaching at the community college and technical school level is also a possibility with a four-year degree. And, if you want to become a detective or move into an administrative position in a law enforcement department, a bachelor’s degree is often required.

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

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminology
  • Criminal Justice Reform
  • Ethics
  • Forensics

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

A graduate degree in criminal justice can lead to teaching and training positions of other law enforcement personnel at both colleges and police academies. For those who want to move into white collar crime investigation, combining a criminal justice background with a business and finance education could lead to a career in cyber security, loss prevention, or forensic accounting. The degree also lends enough credibility to freelance as a private investigator or promotion to administrative positions at various law enforcement agencies.

Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

In most instances, a doctorate degree is not needed to work in criminal justice, unless the person wants to teach at the highest level or strives to become a psychologist or work in forensics in a high capacity.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Minnesota

If you have decided that a career in criminal justice is the right move for you, then there are certain things you need to do. First of all, what profession did you settle on? If you choose some sort of law enforcement, then your first step will be the required training for whichever position you want. For example, to join a city’s police force, you have to attend and graduate from the city’s police academy. Other branches of law enforcement, such as deputies or state troopers, have their own requirements and training programs. Find out what is required and then follow through. If you want to work in criminal justice but in a different capacity, then attending college and getting a degree in social work, criminal justice, or another adjacent field is the right approach. Whichever route you take, the first step is getting the education required to enter the profession you chose.

Once you have the required education, it’s time to start working in your field…sort of. Again, some professions have additional requirements. Social workers have to pass an exam and become licensed. If you’re already working in law enforcement and are considering a career switch, that could require additional training and education, as well. For example, jumping from the local PD to working for a federal agency usually requires additional training and testing. Even to move up in rank at a local police department could require additional training and testing. And it’s generally recommended that a person work in their current position for at least two years before considering making a move. Much of your career will be based on past performance and the recommendation of the officers you worked for and with. It takes time to build up your reputation.

For those who want to work in other areas of the criminal justice system, find out what the requirements are and follow them to the letter. For the careers that do not require a formal education past a high school diploma, keep in mind that, in order to advance in that career, some formal education may eventually be required, so don’t completed close yourself off to the idea of furthering your education.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

The careers a person with an education and experience in criminal justice can explore are varied and plentiful. As was mentioned earlier, there is more to criminal justice than being a police officer, though that’s the career most think of. There are many other careers a person can pursue in the field. Below are some examples of these careers and brief explanations of what the jobs entail. It’s also worth noting that many people start out in one career and then switch as their interests and passions change.

  • Psychometrists
    Psychometrists run psychological tests on people for a variety of reasons. In the criminal justice realm, these professionals test people for neurological anomalies that might allow them to plead a certain way in a court case. Outside of criminal justice, these professionals help people with traumatic brain injuries and other neurological issues so treatment plans can be developed.

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  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    Emergency management coordinators are the people in charge when disaster strikes. They coordinate local, state, and federal agencies when catastrophic events occur in their area. When a town is threatened by flooding, the emergency management coordinator gathers the personnel to perform evacuations, fill sandbags, and find other ways to either prevent the flooding or minimize the damage and threat to human lives. It’s a high stakes, high pressure job but it can also be a rewarding position for those who like to help people at the worst of times.
  • Forensic Accountant
    Forensic accountants are called in when investigators need to follow the money and see where it goes. They are experienced in understanding accounting formats and processes and can often recognize when the paper trail wanders off into less than legal territory. Forensic accountants deal mostly with white collar crimes, but they are also useful in cyber security cases, especially when electronic transactions are taking place.
  • State Trooper
    State troopers are the police of the state. In most cases, state troopers patrol the highways that run through their state. They work to ensure that Interstate commerce laws are followed, and that illegal substances are not brought into the state. In some states, they are referred to as highway patrol officers.
  • Victim Advocate
    A victim advocate advocates for victims of crimes. They assist victims with locating help for emotional assistance and often act as liaisons between victims and law enforcement, the court system, and any other legal entity the victim has to deal with. The advocate always acts on the victim's behalf and strives to ensure that the victims’ rights are protected and enforced at every opportunity. Victim advocates can work with adults and children.
  • Conservation Officer
    Conservation officers protect forests, lakes, and other public land. They make sure that people who are using these areas do so safely and within legal standards. A park ranger is an example of a conservation officer, but there are many other types of people working in this capacity.

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