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What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is a widely varied field. It can involve anyone from a police officer on patrol to the dispatcher who sends them to a crime scene. Others in the CJ field include probation officers, jail guards, and crime scene investigators. Thus, a degree in criminal justice can lead to many career opportunities outside of the police work we see carried on around us every day.

These days, it's increasingly important to include not only crime lab scientists in the criminal justice field but also computer science whizzes. Cyber security is a growing field and those who not only know all aspects of investigating a hacking incident but also the details of proper evidence retrieval and storage will be even more hirable. Much the same can be said of forensic accountants who may be responsible for the prosecution of some of the biggest criminals we know. After all, it can be easier to clean up physical evidence from a violent crime scene than it is to hide financial wrongdoing.

A criminal justice professional is a person who works somewhere within the criminal justice system. We most often think of criminal justice professionals as being patrol police, but the field is far broader than just that. It includes scientific forensics experts, prison guards, parole officers, some social workers, and more. Thus, the job description of a criminal justice professional can vary widely.

Some criminal justice professionals work in an office where they oversee criminal justice agencies including the FBI, CIA, and state-level enforcement agencies. Others are in the field on patrol in a police car or undercover trying to take down white-collar criminals. There are even criminal justice professionals who spend their days in a scientific laboratory where they analyze various fibers, bodily fluids, and other sorts of evidence. Some even hold a PhD in psychology, and they may spend a week giving testimony in court or else in the jails where they interview inmates for their parole hearings.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in New Mexico

To address the growing need for all of these criminal justice professionals, New Mexico's colleges and universities have risen to the challenge. Their criminal justice degree departments seek to attract the best faculty to prepare students for success in the field. Not only do they seek out criminal justice faculty who have strong academic credentials, but also those who have experience working in New Mexico.

After all, New Mexico has perhaps a more complicated criminal justice picture than some other states. Their large swaths of native land, reservations, and the border they share with Mexico can complicate the criminal justice picture for many professionals. A CJ professor who is accustomed to working with native laws alongside those of New Mexico and the United States can help students anticipate these complications.

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Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

An online associate criminal justice degree from a New Mexico community college is a terrific way to launch a career. Since there are many criminal justice positions that don't require more than a high school diploma, an associate degree can give students an advantage. Police typically need no more than a high school degree, but those with an associate degree may be more attractive to hire and will then have a head-start toward earning a bachelor’s degree and their detective badge.

For those who are interested in a more technical career, such as forensics or cyber security, an associate degree offers a great launchpad. While lab workers with a two-year diploma may not be able to conduct much lab work, every crime lab needs a laboratory assistant. From that vantage, an assistant can gain plenty of valuable insights and experiences. Those interested in cyber security can find a CAE accredited associate degree program and start with a very well-paid entry-level position.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

A four-year degree is a terrific starting point for any criminal justice professional. During the course of a four-year bachelor’s criminal justice degree, students are able to dive deeper into the topics that mean the most to them. Some will focus their criminal justice studies in areas that are more akin to sociology or social work, while others will focus on laboratory work. There are other options, as well, that may focus one's later career on administration or even a career as a criminal attorney.

For those who are interested in working in a crime lab, a bachelor’s degree is a necessity. There are some programs in the nation that focus undergraduate study on forensics work, such as testing blood samples. They may also have coursework that focuses on identifying and matching fiber evidence. A bachelor’s degree is also helpful for those who wish to work as a paralegal for a criminal attorney.

Online Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS)

An online master’s degree is a terrific idea for any profession and criminal justice is no exception. While few positions in criminal justice might require a master’s degree, nearly every field will reward those that do the extra academic work. The careers that need a master’s degree the most are that of criminal attorney and crime lab scientist. In fact, while a forensics expert can work with a bachelor’s degree, an MS in forensic sciences will be necessary if they want to truly succeed.

However, an MBA can be a terrific boon for many in the criminal justice field. Those who are interested in administration will be well-served by an MBA that features a concentration in public administration. Some may also choose an MS in public administration. An MS in criminal justice is also helpful for professionals who want to pursue a career in consulting, academia, or even federal law enforcement.

Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

A PhD is a terrific idea for some in the criminal justice community, though many will not need this degree. That level of scholarship is the peak of academic accomplishment, and it will open up many terrific opportunities to the holder. In the criminal justice field, this degree should be helpful with positions high up in state or federal law enforcement. Those who are in cyber security could also benefit greatly from a PhD since many cyber security positions require deep knowledge in the field.

A PhD in criminal justice can also help the holder work in consulting. The level of research required for a doctorate degree will be attractive to various law enforcement departments who are in need of an audit or who need a new approach to law enforcement and are looking for policy advice. This degree will also be helpful for those who wish to publish their views on law enforcement or other issues in criminal justice. They may also be able to land well-paid speaking engagements on the basis of their academic credentials.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in New Mexico

There are many routes to become a criminal justice professional in New Mexico. One of the first steps is to determine that this is right field to pursue. Those who are drawn to the principles of justice and law may be great candidates for a career in law enforcement. This can apply to those who have a strong draw to accounting, psychology, lab science, or computer science, as well.

For those who are interested in being community police, entering the field is rather easy. Most police departments only require a high school diploma or the equivalent. Then, aspiring police must qualify for, and complete, their local police academy. This will require a good deal of physical fitness on top of mental strength. However, those who choose to earn a college degree may find more success.

Those New Mexico criminal justice professionals who start with an associate degree may find that it's easier to land a job and that promotions come easier thereafter. A two-year community college degree will also help students gain soft skills that help one's professional advancement. For instance, one can hone their communication skills while earning an associate degree, which can be very helpful in the workplace.

Criminal justice professionals in New Mexico also find that a bachelor’s degree is enormously helpful. This may be especially true for those who desire a job in public administration over a law enforcement department or agency. However, a bachelor’s criminal justice degree is also very useful for those who are interested in cyber security or forensics.

A master’s degree is also a terrific launchpad for a criminal justice career. Those who work in forensics will certainly need this level of scientific training if they want to rise in the ranks of their crime lab. It's also a terrific idea for a criminal justice administrator to earn an MS in public administration but an equally good option would be an MBA with a concentration in public administration. A third option would be a dual MBA in public administration and/or criminal justice. Advanced degrees are also required for those in forensic psychology. Many states may even require that its forensic psychologists earn a PhD before they qualify for state contracts.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Psychometrists:
    These professionals work with various forms of psychological tests and provide their analysis to a psychologist or counselor. They may also work with the courts to test people for their relative competency to stand trial, or for other purposes. A psychometrist should be trained in statistics, psychology, and criminal justice. While a master’s degree isn't necessary, it may be desired by some employers.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator:
    Given the rise in weather-related disasters, this field is on the rise. Emergency management coordinators work with local, state, or federal government departments to prepare for a variety of disastrous outcomes including floods, fires, extreme drought, or even war. EMC's need strong communication skills to help coordinate between various helping agencies including the fire departments, police, and volunteer organizations.

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  • Forensic Accountant:
    Most accountants work with law-abiding individuals and businesses to sort out their finances. Forensic accountants, on the other hand, investigate financial crimes including money laundering, extortion, and fraud. This field conjoins accountancy with crime fighting and lets workers express their financial acumen along with their desire to see justice in our society. Since crime lords such as Al Capone were taken down on the basis of financial crime, financial accountants are some of our greatest unsung heroes.
  • Forensic Psychologist:
    To determine whether a person is competent to stand trial, whether they were fully "sane" at the time of a crime, or if they are due some accommodations in prison, officials rely on forensic psychologists to weigh in. To become a forensic psychologist, students need to complete a PhD in psychology. These professionals also may work with law enforcement as criminal profilers who help detectives solve crimes including those concerning serial killers or other repeat offenders, and they often act as expert witnesses in court.
  • Paralegal:
    These legal professionals are fundamental to the workings of any legal practice. Paralegals file documents with the court, draft briefs and motions, prepare clients for interviews and testimony, and work as investigators. A degree in criminal justice is a great way to launch a paralegal career with a criminal defense attorney.
  • Social Worker:
    This job title applies to a wide range of professionals who seek to help people access and make the most of various public resources. Social workers may also have master’s degrees in clinical social work, which enables them to practice counseling. A licensed, clinical social worker must have a master of social work and proper state licensing from the state of New Mexico but they can work in private practice or for a social services agency.
  • Private Investigator:
    To become a private investigator, all that is required is a state license. There are no experience or academic requirements. However, many retired police detectives turn to private investigation in their retirement. Their professional credentials lend them credibility with clients, but a sharp criminal justice student may be able to do as well. Private investigators work for large investigation firms or in private practice. They may also create practices that involve lots of field work or may conduct their business by way of desk work involving research.
  • Detective:
    Police officers who earn a college degree may qualify for the title of detective. Detectives earn a higher salary and enjoy elevated status in their departments. Since they oversee investigations, patrol police report to them with evidence and other intelligence.

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