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What is Criminal Justice?

Mention anything that involves criminal justice and people automatically think of cops and jail, but there is much more involved in the actual criminal justice system.

The number of careers in this industry keeps growing; you don’t have to be a cop, parole officer, or attorney to be in the industry. There is much more to it than that. In the state of North Dakota, there are roughly 7,400 people working in the criminal Justice industry, and not all of them are in actual law enforcement. Most of these roles help people either caught in the system and trying to get out or those who are victims of someone else in the system. It’s not all about putting away the bad guy. Some people in criminal justice are there to help those who need assistance navigating the system from the other side. And, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for workers in protective services (criminal justice) is expected to increase through 2029. Which means that this may be an excellent time to start pursuing educational and career options.

Criminal justice staff spend their days working in a variety of environments. The day might start out in the office, completing paperwork or writing emails. Later in the day, they might do community outreach. Some workers might meet with parolees or those on probation to make sure they are following their directives. Others could spend their day in court. And, of course, you have law enforcement personnel doing their best to keep the citizens in their community safe.

It’s hard to pin down one set of responsibilities that you will be responsible for because criminal justice is such a large umbrella that covers such a wide range of jobs.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in North Dakota

As mentioned previously, the amount of education required to work in criminal justice depends on the position being sought. Below are the common educational levels and the classes a person might take to achieve a degree on that level. Not all careers require a formal education to start, but most will require some level of a formal education later if one plans to advance in their career.

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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 above a high school diploma for those who plan to attend a police academy or become prison guards. A degree means that an officer can be promoted more quickly than someone who does not have a degree.

Students enrolled in a two-year program will take general education and core courses such as:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Corrections
  • Policing
  • Juvenile Justice

Online associate degrees typically take two years to complete and when, or if, the student chooses, the credits earned with the associate degree may transfer to a bachelor’s degree. However, if you want your credits to be taken seriously, and want to ensure that they will transfer, you should make sure that the school you attend is accredited properly.

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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 when you gain a higher 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 are the same as those you might take in an associate degree (these are the credits you would transfer if you already earned an associate degree, and your credits will transfer) and other subjects covered might include:

  • The Psychology of Crime
  • The U.S. Criminal Justice System
  • Crime Prevention
  • Homeland Security
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • Forensics
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Online Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS)

A graduate degree in criminal justice can lead to teaching and training positions at both colleges and police academies. It may also help those within law enforcement to gain access to supervisory or administrative roles. 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 for graduates to freelance as private investigators or, again, gain promotion to administrative positions at various law enforcement agencies.

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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 some capacity. However, crime forensics might call for a PhD if you have a focus on science and are aiming to reach the highest levels, run your own lab, or be considered an expert who can provide courtroom testimony.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in North Dakota

The path to becoming a criminal justice professional depends on the track a person decides to take. For example, a person who wants to become a police officer will follow a different path than someone who wants to become a victim advocate. So, the first step is to identify what you want to do. Some people will choose a career that requires a high school diploma or GED. Others will require an associate degree or higher. So, the next choice is how much education you are willing or able to earn, at least at the beginning of your career.

To enter any branch of law enforcement, a person will likely need to attend the academy for whichever branch they are interested in but, to advance in that career, additional formal education may be needed. Those who choose to work within the prison system also are required to get special training as guards, and other staff members are required to have an education in criminal justice, social work, psychology, or another area. Each area of criminal justice has some educational requirements, and they can vary even within the state, so a person should contact the agency for whom they want to work and determine what the required qualifications are.

Once the proper education has been attained, a person might have to take and pass any licensing or certification exams needed to work in their chosen profession. For example, social workers must take and pass their state’s social work exam. The police academy’s training includes both physical and classroom time, and there is an exam at the end of training. Those who want to work as counselors or therapists for inmates must be licensed to provide those services.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Psychometrists
    Psychometrists provide the baseline for a person’s mental health state. In the area of criminal justice, this can help determine if a person was in their right mind when they allegedly committed a crime and whether or not there are mentally stable enough to stand trial. It can also help medical and other mental health professional diagnose mental health issues in those involved in the criminal justice system. The specialist conducts a series of tests, and the results help paint a clear picture of the inmate’s mental state.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    Emergency management coordinators aim to provide leadership in communities when disaster strikes. They coordinate local, state, and federal agency responses when catastrophic events occur in their local area, as well as volunteers and other aid. Quick responses, and knowing the services and resources available, is important when a town is threatened by a hurricane, wildfire, or other emergency, and 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 threats to human lives (or whatever is required based on the emergency). It is a high-stake, high-pressure job, but it can also be a rewarding position for those who like to help people at the worst of times.

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  • Forensic Accountant
    Forensic accountants are called in when investigators need to follow the money and see where it goes. This is especially helpful when dealing with white collar crime, such as fraud and embezzlement. They are experienced in understanding accounting formats and processes and can often recognize when the paper trail veers off into questionable territory. Forensic accountants can also be useful in cyber security cases, especially when electronic transactions are part of an investigation.
  • State Trooper
    State troopers are police officers assigned to work for the state. They do investigate crime, but much of their time is spent ensuring that the highways are safe for everyone, so many of their cases involve interstate commerce. In some states, they are referred to as highway patrol officers, but they perform the same duties. Unlike police officers or sheriff deputies, these officers don’t just work for the part of the state they patrol, such as a town or county. They work for the entire state and have jurisdiction to investigate cases throughout the state.
  • Parole Officer
    When a citizen is released from prison, the parole officer assists with their transition back into the outside world. Parolees report to this officer on a regular basis, usually weekly. Parole officers ensure that their charges are acting within the parameters of their parole stipulations and assist where possible if a parolee is trying to comply but is meeting resistance. In the case where a parolee isn’t complying, the parole officer will report the violation to the court and the parolee could be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence.
  • Crime Scene Investigator
    The proliferation of crime scene shows on television has caused an influx of interest in this career. Crime scene investigators gather evidence from a crime scene and attempt to find evidence to prove facts about the incident they are investigating. They work with DNA and other physical evidence. It’s not as glamorous a job in real life as it is portrayed on screen, but it is an important part of a criminal investigation.
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