What is Criminal Justice?
Are you interested in pursuing a criminal justice degree in Montana? This is an ideal major for those who wish to pursue employment opportunities in law enforcement and legal advocacy. Graduates may, however, also qualify for jobs in other related fields. Additionally, the knowledge and skills obtained while earning this type of degree can be utilized in a variety of settings, especially those that involve individual and group safety efforts.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in protective service occupations is expected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030. This is about as fast as the average for all other professions and is expected to result in about 286,400 new criminal justice jobs throughout the nation. Some professions will see higher increases than others such as fire inspectors, security guards, and private detectives. Gains in these careers will range from between 11% and 15%.
Protective service occupations accounted for 8,010 jobs in Montana in May 2021. The annual mean wage for these professionals was $52,160, which is higher than the national median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations. An additional 3,880 positions in legal professions were also filled in the state. These workers earned an annual mean wage of $76,240.
Online Criminal Justice Education in Montana
Colleges and universities throughout the nation offer online criminal justice degree programs. Online learning options also make it possible to participate in classes and complete coursework from nearly anywhere in the world where internet access is available. While convenient, prospective students who plan to seek employment in Montana should strongly consider enrolling at institution in the state. This is because local schools tend to be more familiar with requirements and expectations of professionals in the region, as well as any laws and regulations related to relevant licenses and certifications. Additionally, it’s common for colleges and universities to have pre-established relationships with nearby companies and organizations. This can make it easier for students and graduates to obtain internships and/or employment.
There are many different kinds of criminal justice professionals in Montana. Those who earn degrees in this field will need to choose which career path suits their personal and professional goals best. While there are a wide variety of professions to choose from, most relate to some facet of creating and upholding societal regulations and laws. It’s also common for criminal justice professionals to fill roles that involve holding others accountable for their actions. Some prominent examples include law enforcement, the court system, politics, advocacy, and corrections.
Prospective students must understand that every state has and maintains its own criminal justice system, which can impact the type of jobs available, the amount of education required, and the application process. Most systems work in tandem with the United States government, but those interested in the field will need to become familiar with their local regulations prior to applying for employment. It also means that job descriptions are likely to vary significantly from state to state and even between counties.
To ensure criminal justice majors are properly equipped for successful careers, many colleges and universities design their programs to help students develop skills in communication, empathy, and leadership. These are easily transferable and can be applied to most professions in the field. The most successful criminal justice professionals are also highly perceptive and possess good judgement. Additionally, they tend to enjoy solving problems and are capable of addressing issues quickly and efficiently. While criminal justice jobs are often personally fulfilling, they can be physically demanding and potentially dangerous as well.
- Cyber Security
- Emergency Management
- Forensic Science
- Fire Science
- Homeland Security
Not all criminal justice professionals in Montana require higher education. Many jobs in the state require only that candidates have high school diplomas or equivalent certificates of completion. The degree level necessary will, however, depend on the type of employment pursued. Additionally, choosing to obtain a degree is often beneficial, as graduates tend to have better job and earnings prospects than those without them.
Montana offers criminal justice degree programs at every level: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Each option has its own benefits and drawbacks, so prospective students will need to carefully research the requirements associated with their intended professions.
Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)
Associate degrees in criminal justice generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. It’s worth noting that some community colleges may offer online accelerated programs that that takes a few as 18 months to finish. Every institution is different, but most curriculums are made up of both general education and major-specific content. Students can expect to cover topics related to American government, law enforcement, judicial processes, and critical thinking.
This type of degree is ideal for individuals seeking a general introduction to the field. Graduates generally qualify for entry-level employment opportunities in the field such as police officer, correctional officer, and private investigator. Notably and as previously mentioned, a degree may not be necessary to obtain these professions. Degrees can, however, make candidates more competitive during the hiring process and may lead to more professional opportunities in the future.
Graduates can also transfer the credits they earn to other colleges and universities. Many institutions will accept between 60 and 90 transfer credits, which is generally enough to satisfy the first two years of bachelor’s degree requirements. Instead of starting four-year degree programs as freshmen, students with associate degrees often enter as juniors.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)
An online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately four years to complete. Programs specifics vary, but curriculums generally contain a mixture of general education and majors-specific classes. Core courses relate to topics that are most relevant to the field such as criminology, judicial administration, and legal traditions. Students can also expect to receive extensive instruction in research and writing.
This type of degree may not be required for many jobs, but a significant number of criminal justice professionals opt to earn them anyway. Not only do they enhance resumes and indicate dedication to the field, but prospective employers tend to give preference to more educated applicants. There are also several criminal justice professions that require bachelor’s degrees, such as the FBI and CIA. The most common career options available to graduates at this level include guidance counselor, child safety advocate, social worker, crime scene investigator, and homeland security specialist.
Graduates can also choose to continue their education by enrolling in master’s degree programs. Notably, most graduate schools expect applicants to meet minimum admittance grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score guidelines.
Online Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS)
An online master’s degrees in criminal justice generally consist of between 30 and 60 credit hours of coursework that full-time students can complete within two years. Curriculums vary, but these programs typically focus solely on major content. In most cases, this means instruction related to management, data analytics, organizational strategies, and decision-making. Students should also anticipate participating in internships and/or and research projects.
This type of degree is ideal for aspiring and current professionals who intent to apply for leadership roles in the field. Graduates tend to qualify for many top jobs, especially those with supervisory components. Those with master’s degrees are also more likely to promote and may earn higher salaries.
Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)
Doctorate degrees in criminal justice generally consist of between 50 and 75 credit hours and take full-time students about five years to complete. Every college and university is different, but most programs require some direct instruction followed by years of independent study. In most cases, students will need to prepare and defend dissertations prior to graduation.
This type of degree is not required for many jobs in the field. They are most appropriate for those interested in pursuing employment in research and/or postsecondary instruction. These are some of the most lucrative professions related to criminal justice available. Other employment prospects include social service director, information systems manager, forensic scientist, and police chief.
Another viable academic option at this level is a doctorate of business administration (DBA). This degree prepares professionals for leadership and supervisory roles. Instruction often covers leadership theory, strategic thinking, consulting, and intervention practices.
Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Montana
The first step to becoming a criminal justice professional in Montana is determining what type of profession you want to pursue. As there are numerous career options available in the field, identifying your specific aspirations will ensure you obtain the most appropriate degree, training, and qualifications.
In most cases, some level of higher education is generally required. The type of degree you need will depend largely upon your intended profession, with some jobs necessitating more than others. Many colleges and universities also offer students opportunities to select concentrations or specialties. This is a good way to differentiate your knowledge from others and is especially important if the concentration relates directly to your area of interest.
Some of the most common specialties in criminal justice are:
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Homeland Security
- Legal Studies
- Cyber Security
Those interested in pursuing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice will also likely benefit from participating in internships. The majority of internship opportunities are unpaid, but they can provide students with extensive hands-on experience that can be applied to future employment. Not only do internships improve resumes, but they can also lead to paid jobs in the future.
Once you have completed any necessary academic requirements, it’s possible that you will need to obtain additional credentials, such as certifications or licenses. Private investigators, for example, must be licensed with the Montana Board of Private Security. Certifications are generally obtained via third-party organizations, although you should research your specific area of interest to ensure you pursue the correct ones. Notably, obtaining these additional credentials often improves job competitiveness, promotion likelihood, and wage potential.
One of the most commonly sought professions for criminal justice majors is public safety officer. In Montana, this designation includes police officers, deputy sheriffs, county coroners, county detention center officers, public safety communicators, state corrections officers, state probation and parole officers, highway patrol troopers, game wardens, and motor carrier services officers. All applicants must be at least 18 years old and citizens of the United States. They must also have a high school diploma or pass the general education development test and have an equivalency certification. Additionally, fingerprinting is required, and applicants must not have any criminal convictions. Montana law always required individuals seeking employment as peace officers to have a medical exam conducted by a licensed physician appointed by the employing agency. Newly employed public safety officers have one year to attend the appropriate Basic course offered at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. Further qualifications may be established by the Montana Public Safety Officer Standards and Training (POST) Council.
Ultimately, requirements vary based on your intended profession. Review state rules and regulations carefully to ensure you obtain the correct education, training, and credentials.
Potential Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates
- Criminal Justice Careers
There are a number of career options available to those who obtain criminal justice degrees in Montana. As previously mentioned, the amount of higher education required will vary depending on the profession sought. Duties and salaries will also differ.
- Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
Crime scene investigators work at crime scenes, securing and examining the areas. They perform a variety of tasks including searching for evidence, determining which scenes require further investigation, and monitoring work performed by forensic investigators. These professionals also determine which pieces of evidence should be more closely examined. According to PayScale, crime scene investigators make an average base salary of $48,300 per year.
Paralegals provide assistance to lawyers. They often perform extensive research on assigned cases and offer various legal support services such as meeting with clients, filing paperwork, and appearing in court. These professionals may also conduct interviews, edit pleadings, and help review relevant legal documents. According to PayScale, paralegals make an average base salary of $49,100 per year.
- Private Investigator or Detective
Private investigators are hired by independent employers, often to find and/or analyze information and/or people. They can be employed for a number of purposes, including the investigation of financial dealings or to discover personal details about others. Depending on the job, these professionals may conduct surveillance, research possible criminal activities, conduct background checks, and organize important documentation. According to PayScale, private detectives and investigators make an average hourly wage of $23.71, which equates to an average of $58,500 per year.
- Probation Officer & Corrections
Probation officers provide assistance and support to prior criminal offenders. They also ensure the individuals assigned to them do not commit additional crimes in the future. While responsibilities vary, these professionals commonly work with local law enforcement, the courts, and sentencing judges to identify the safest and fairest outcomes for convicts. Additionally, probation officers often help ensure that truly dangerous criminals remain in prison. According to PayScale, probation officers make an average base salary of $44,450 per year.
- Social Worker
Social workers provide assistance to patients and their families as they work through various emotional and/or social problems. They provide the resources and tools needed for patients to productively address these issues. While every case is different, these professionals often make referrals to appropriate specialists and recommend potentially helpful resources. Additionally, social workers sometimes serve as advocates, facilitating education and support-related programs. According to PayScale, social workers make an average base salary of $48,900 per year.
- State Trooper
State troopers are distinct from police officers, but do perform many of the same tasks. These professionals patrol assigned areas, obtain information about alleged crimes, and complete related paperwork. They are also authorized to perform property searches and make formal arrests. According to PayScale, state troopers make an average base salary of $56,150 per year.
- Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse counselors diagnose and treat people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, often developing and tracking individualized treatment plans. They often offer one-on-one and/or group counseling. These professionals also work with patients to identify and eliminate possible substance abuse triggers. According to PayScale, substance abuse counselors make an average base hourly rate of $17.72, or $40,250 per year.
- Protective Service Occupations. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Employment of protective service occupations, by state, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Montana Board of Private Security: Private Investigator. Montana Department of Labor & Industry Boards
- Becoming a Public Safety Officer. Montana Department of Justice