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What is Criminal Justice?

“To protect and serve” is a motto of most law enforcement first responders, but it really covers most criminal justice professionals. Although police officers and sheriff deputies are the first things people think of when criminal justice is brought up, there are dozens of other professions and careers that fall under the criminal justice umbrella. Essentially, most people who enter a field where the aforementioned motto applies may work in, or adjacent to, the criminal justice profession.

In the state of Oregon, roughly 33,000 workers are employed in what the US Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as “Protective Services”. This includes police officers, probation officers, security guards, investigators, and detectives. Another 27,000 are employed as social workers, prison guards, and other jobs where working with endangered and marginalized groups of the public is the ultimate goal. And the need for people to work in these fields is expected to increase from now until 2030.

A criminal justice professional works within the criminal justice system. These professionals work on both sides of the system, for example law enforcement staff that deal with those who are suspected of committing crimes or within the part of the system that attempts to prevent people from either committing their first crimes or help those who already have committed crimes not to reoffend. And, of course, there are also jobs in the court system, which is tied to criminal justice and there are social workers, who might work with children to keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice professionals work with people of all ages and socioeconomic levels. They can investigate crimes, speak with crime victims and witnesses, and work with students to help them learn ways to stay away from crime. They also work with communities and train residents to spot dangers and crimes in their area.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in Oregon

So, for those who have the passion and desire to help people, right wrongs and help those who made mistakes but strive to accept their punishment and return to society and not reoffend, a career in criminal justice might be for you. Below you will find information regarding the education requirements, how to get started in the field, and a few examples of the jobs that criminal justice professionals might pursue.

Depending on a person’s chosen career path, the type and level of education can vary. For those who want to enter law enforcement, attending a police academy is the typical approach. Officers can opt to earn a degree from a regular university (an associate degree or a bachelor’s) to attain more education so that they can quickly move up in the ranks of their department. Other careers, such as social workers, must attain bachelor’s degrees as well as a license to work. Some careers require a combination of degrees and education. Below are some of the degree a person who wants to pursue a profession within criminal justice could earn in the field.

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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 a 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:

  • US Criminal Justice System
  • Criminal Investigation and Procedure
  • Corrections
  • And More

Associate degrees typically take two years to complete and, when or if the student chooses, the credits earned with the associate degree could transfer to a bachelor’s degree. This can only happen if you attend an accredited school or choose to attend a school that already has a transfer agreement with a four-year institution, so make sure that you are looking for that when you perform a school search.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

How much a undergraduate 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 are easier when you have a bachelor’s. It’s also an ideal move if you want to combine your criminal justice experience with another field, such as cyber security or forensic science. You could also be eligible to teach at some community colleges and technical schools after you earn a bachelor’s. And, if you want to become a detective or move into an administrative position, a bachelor’s degree is often required.

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

  • Intro to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Criminal Investigations, Courts, etc.
  • Juvenile Justice System
  • Crime in Media and Popular Culture
  • Forensics and Digital Investigations
  • Criminal Punishment
  • Legal Issues in Corrections
  • Criminal Justice Research Methods
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • White Collar Crime, Gangs and Crime, Drugs and Crime
  • Politics of Criminal Justice
  • Victimology
  • And More

A bachelor’s degree should take around four years to complete, as long as you are able to attend full-time. However, if you attend part-time, whether so you can work or because you have other responsibilities, it will take longer, or you might be able to find an accelerated course that can let you finish more quickly. Those who have already earned an associate degree with credit hours that will transfer may be able to skip one or two years of their bachelor’s degrees and start as sophomores or juniors.

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

A graduate degree in criminal justice can lead to teaching positions and the training of other law enforcement personnel at academies. Those who want to move into white collar crime investigation could combine criminal justice education with business, finance, or IT and work in cyber security, loss prevention, or forensic accounting. This degree also lends credibility to those who wish to freelance as private investigators or move into 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 someone wants to teach at the highest level or strives to become a psychologist or work in forensics in some capacity. Those who complete PhDs in criminal justice have a better chance of earning a tenured position with a college or university, or working in policy creation, research, or for think tanks. No matter the reason for earning a PhD, it can take anywhere from three to five years to complete, and students must not only perform original research and write a dissertation, but they may also need to defend that dissertation in front of a panel in order to fully earn their degree.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Oregon

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, what profession did you choose? 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 required police academy. This varies from one department to another, so check with specific departments for details. 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 maybe 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 the required education is achieved, a person is ready to begin their career. It’s usually at this point, or a few years into a career, that a person decides if they want to stick with their current career path or make a change. Police officers might decide to remain officers or might choose to become parole officers or pursue another branch of law enforcement with the state police or a federal agency. Prison guards might decide to become social workers or go to the police academy and become police officers. Or, after some time in their chosen career, a person might decide to switch to education and teach criminal justice courses or train at the police academy. There is also the option for a person working in criminal justice to go back to school and pursue a degree in law. Some of the best attorneys are former law enforcement professionals because they know how the legal system works from the inside.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

There are so many options for people who want to work as criminal justice professionals, it would be impossible to list them all here. The important thing to remember is that, regardless of how you want to help people and your community, a job likely exists that will let you do so. Below are a few examples of the types of careers a person with a criminal justice background could consider.

  • 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 help criminologists built a psychological profile, or they may help a lawyer or jury decide whether or not an insanity plea is reasonable. 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:
    An emergency management coordinator coordinates with local, state, and federal agencies to assist the public when a crisis occurs. Whether it’s the aftermath of a tornado, flood, hurricane, flash flood, wild or structural fire, or another disaster, the emergency management coordinator’s most important task is to ensure that all citizens are safe and their immediate and long-term needs are met. Coordinators work with first responder agencies such as police and fire departments, as well as state and federal agencies such as FEMA.
  • Forensic Accountant:
    A forensic accountant is a special type of accountant. They specialize in looking for fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and other types of financial malfeasance. Forensic accountants have an education in both accounting and criminal justice and are skilled at analyzing financial transactions and records and tracing assets to find out if the transactions are legal or otherwise.
  • Paralegal:
    Paralegals work with attorneys on cases. They write memos, briefs, and any other legal correspondence the attorney needs completed. They also do legal research, perform office administrative duties, and file paperwork with the court.
  • Victim Advocate:
    A victim advocate supports 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 work with adults and children.
  • Conservation Officer:
    Conservation officers protect forests and lakes. They make sure that people who are using these areas do so safely and within the legal standards. A park ranger is an example of a conservation officer but there are many other types of people working in this capacity. A career such as this is especially important in a state such as Oregon.
  • ATF/DoD/DEA/FBI/CIA/NSA/Secret Service Agent:
    For many law enforcement officers, moving from state or local law enforcement and into federal departments are the next step. ATF (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms), DoD (Department of Defense), DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), CIA Central Intelligence Agency, the NSA (National Security Agency and Secret Service Agents each have their own set of requirements, but they generally pull their agents from law enforcement agencies from around the country

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