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What is Criminal Justice?

Are you interested in earning a criminal justice degree in Rhode Island? This is an ideal major for those who plan to pursue employment related to law enforcement and/or legal advocacy, but it may also prove useful in many other related fields. The knowledge and skills gained can be utilized in many other professions, ensuring that graduates are prepared to work in a wide variety of settings.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 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 will result in about 286,400 new criminal justice jobs throughout the nation. Notably, however, some professions are expected to grow more significantly than others. Occupations likely to see the greatest rises in employment are fire inspector, security guard, and private detective, which are expected to see gains ranging between 11% and 15%.

Rhode Island employs large quantities of criminal justice and law workers, as they are essential for maintaining social safety and success. While this sector is not among the state’s top money-making industries, it is heavily relied on by most individuals, organizations, businesses, and government agencies. As a result, there will always be a need for qualified criminal justice professionals here.

As of May 2021, protective service occupations accounted for 12,260 jobs in Rhode Island. The state’s annual mean wage for these professionals was $56,030. While this is slightly lower than the annual mean wage of $62,120 for all occupations in Rhode Island, it’s higher than the national median annual wage of $45,760 for all occupations as reported by the BLS. Additionally, those interested in pursuing legal jobs will have better prospects. In May 2021, the state employed 4,750 individuals in this type of occupation and their annual mean wage was $114,480.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in Rhode Island

Some of the most notable career paths available to those with criminal justice degrees include:

  • Criminology
  • Cyber Security
  • Emergency Management
  • Fire Science
  • Forensic Science
  • Homeland Security

Many colleges and universities offer criminal justice degree programs. While Rhode Island is the smallest state in the country, it’s still home to several academic institutions. Some may be tempted to enroll in online learning options, which allow students to complete graduation requirements from nearly anywhere in the world where internet access. Those who intend to find employment in Rhode Island, however, may want to give preference to schools in the state. Local colleges and universities provide education that is more regionally relevant, ensuring graduates possess the knowledge and skills generally required of employers in the area. This is even more important for individuals who plan to pursue professions that require state licenses and certifications. It‘s also worth mentioning that many academic institutions work hard to establish relationships with local companies and organization, which often results in more prevalent internships opportunities for students.

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There are many different criminal justice professions available in Rhode Island. As a result, degree graduates can generally choose careers that suit their personal interests and skills best. While job descriptions and expectations vary, most criminal justice occupations relate to creating and upholding societal regulations and laws. At a basic level, many who work in this field are responsible for performing tasks that facilitate holding others accountable for their actions. Some of the most common career options include law enforcement, the court system, politics, advocacy, and corrections.

Rhode Island online colleges and universities strive to offer programs that equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve successful careers in various criminal justice occupations. Curriculums combine classroom instruction and coursework to foster development in communication, empathy, and leadership. All of these factors are essential for professionals in the field, but may also be transferred and applied to other disciplines as well. This can make it easier for graduates to find employment.

The most successful criminal justice professionals possess good judgement and are highly perceptive. These individuals may also enjoy solving problems and are often capable of addressing issues quickly and efficiently. It’s important to realize, however, that jobs related to criminal justice are often physically demanding and potentially dangerous.

While criminal justice is an important part of the nation’s overall society, every state has and maintains its own legal systems. This means that Rhode Island has complete control over the types of jobs available, as well as the education and experience requirements that must be met by candidates. Those interested in the field will need to become familiar with their local regulations.

Not all criminal justice professions in Rhode Island require higher education but choosing to earn degrees related to this field can be extremely beneficial. This is especially true for those interested in pursuing advanced and/or supervisory positions. As every occupation has different academic requirements, it’s always a good idea to research jobs of interest prior to beginning the enrollment process.

Prospective students can pursue criminal justice degrees at every level: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate. Some colleges and universities also offer relevant certificate programs, appropriate for undergraduate and graduate students who want to obtain specialized skills even more quickly. While those with more education tend to have the best prospects, graduates of all kinds often have more employment opportunities, promote faster, and earn higher wages.

Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS or AA)

Online associate degrees in criminal justice generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two years to complete. While less common, accelerated programs do exist. These may allow students to graduate in as few as 18 months.

Every program is different, but most curriculums at this level are comprised of both general liberal arts education and major-specific instruction. Students can expect to study communication and math, as well as American government, law enforcement, judicial processes, and more.

This type of degree typically serves as a broad introduction to the field. Graduates often qualify for entry-level employment opportunities such as police officer, correctional officer, and private investigator. Notably, however, many of these professions do not actually require formal higher education of any kind. In these cases, graduates become more competitive and may gain preference over candidates without degrees. Prospective students should also realize that requirements vary by state, making it essential to research employer expectations carefully before applying.

It's also common for graduates to utilize associate degrees to jumpstart their academic careers. Instead of seeking employment right away, many opt to continue their education by enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs. Undergraduate credits earned can be transferred between institutions. Most colleges and universities accept as many as 60 to 90 hours of classwork, allowing those with associate degrees to enter as juniors instead of freshmen.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS or BA)

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. Those entering with associate degrees, however, may require only two additional years of study.

As with associate degrees, programs at this level are typically comprised of both general liberal arts education and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary by institution, but students can usually expect to learn about key topics in the field such as criminology, judicial administration, and legal traditions. Those enrolled should also anticipate receiving extensive instruction in research and writing.

This type of degree is a common requirement among some of the top criminal justice employers in the nation, including the FBI and CIA. Graduates may also qualify to work as guidance counselors, child safety advocates, social workers, crime scene investigators, and homeland security specialists. Again, however, not all entry-level professions in this field necessitate earning a degree of any kind. Despite this, it’s quite common for prospective professionals to pursue bachelor’s degrees, as hiring managers frequently give preference to candidates who possess more education.

Some graduates choose to continue their education even further by enrolling in master’s degree programs. Those interested in graduate school should be prepared to meet minimum grade point average (GPA) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) score requirements.

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

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. At this level, students are no longer expected to take general liberal arts classes. While some prerequisites may exist, the core curriculum will be comprised of major content only. Those enrolled can expect to learn about management, data analytics, organizational strategies, and decision-making. Participation in internships and/or research projects is also commonly required or encouraged.

This type of degree is most appropriate for aspiring and current professionals who plan to apply for leadership roles in criminal justice. Graduates tend to qualify for top management jobs with more responsibilities.

Alternatively, prospective students can choose to enroll in masters of business administration (MBA) degree programs. MBAs place instructional emphasis on the planning and execution of standard business practices. They are most appropriate for those who intend to pursue management positions within the criminal justice field but may prove useful to anyone interested in obtaining supervisory roles.

In both cases, graduates typically have more employment opportunities. They are also likely to promote faster within their given organizations and earn higher salaries.

Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

Online 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 program is different, but most are designed to explore major topics within the field with research and higher education in mind. Those enrolled can expect to spend the first few years receiving classroom instruction before performing primarily independent study. Additionally, students must research, write, and defend dissertations prior to graduation.

This type of degree is rarely required for standard employment in the field. Only those who plan to pursue professions related to research and policy are likely to benefit from criminal justice doctorates. Graduates will also qualify for jobs as postsecondary educators, social service directors, information systems managers, forensic scientists, and police chiefs.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Rhode Island

The first step to becoming a criminal justice professional in Rhode Island is to identify your preferred profession. As previously mentioned, various occupations have differing education, training, and experience requirements. Establishing career goals early will make it easier to determine which type of degree program is most appropriate.

Many colleges and universities also expect students to select academic concentrations while enrolled. This allows you to tailor some of your coursework to prepare you for work in a particular sub-field. The job you hope to attain should play a role in your selection.

Some of the most common specialties available in criminal justice are:

  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Homeland Security
  • Legal Studies
  • Cyber Security

It’s also common for institutions to facilitate internships with nearby companies and organizations. Participation in internship programs may be required or voluntary. In either case, the experience is often very beneficial. While often unpaid, these positions allow you to gain extensive hands-on experience in the field. This looks good on your resume and, in some cases, can lead to paid employment after graduation.

Once you have completed all of the necessary academic requirements, you can choose to obtain professional certifications and/or licenses. There are many of these credentials available, with most offered by the state government, state boards, professional associations, and third-party organizations. Again, your intended profession will likely dictate which, if any, are necessary or beneficial. Generally, however, additional credentials improve overall competitiveness in the job market and can increase pay potential.

Ultimately, academic and experiential requirements vary based on your intended profession. As a result, you will need to review state laws and regulations carefully to ensure you obtain the necessary education, training, and credentials.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
    Crime scene investigators are responsible for securing and examining scenes where crimes have been committed. These professionals often determine which sites require more investigation before searching for relevant evidence. They are also often tasked with identifying which pieces of evidence deserve the most attention, as well as monitoring the work performed by forensic investigators. According to PayScale, crime scene investigators make an average base salary of $48,300 per year.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals are responsible for providing lawyers with a wide variety of assistance. This often entails performing research on assigned cases and offering various legal support services. These professionals may also be asked to meet with clients, file paperwork, and appear in court. Additionally, they are trained to 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 responsible for finding and/or analyzing information and/or people for their employers. These professionals may be hired to complete a wide variety of tasks, from investigating financial dealings to discovering personal details about others. They may utilize many skills and tools to perform 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.

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  • Probation Officer
    Probation officers are responsible for providing assistance and support to criminal offenders after they are released from prison. These professionals often work with local law enforcement, the courts, and sentencing judges to identify the safest and fairest outcomes for convicts, while helping to ensure those assigned to them do not commit additional crimes. They may also work to keep truly dangerous criminals from reentering society. According to PayScale, probation officers make an average base salary of $44,450 per year.
  • Social Worker
    Social workers are responsible for assisting patients and their families while working through various emotional and/or social problems. These professionals ensure the needed resources and tools are available in order to more effectively address issues. In some cases, they may also make referrals to more appropriate specialists for additional treatment. It’s also common for social workers to serve as advocates in order to facilitate 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 responsible for many of the same tasks performed by police officers, although the scope of their authority varies. These professionals often 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 are responsible for diagnosing and treating people with drug and/or alcohol addictions. These professionals often create individualized treatment plans for patients and track their progress over time. They can provide one-on-one and/or group counseling, depending on the needs of those they work with. Additionally, substance abuse counselors spend a lot of time helping addicts 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.

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