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What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice careers are hugely varied. Criminal justice professionals are found wearing a badge and driving a patrol car but they're also chasing computer hackers, administering departments, working for private security firms, and counseling chronic criminals. They can also work in scientific labs where they analyze evidence found at crime scenes. Most any passion can find a home in the criminal justice system. It seems that the common thread through most of the careers is a drive towards justice and a love of solving crimes.

A criminal justice professional is a worker who focuses their career on law enforcement or the rehabilitation of criminals. They may work as police on patrol, federal investigators, or paralegals. The scope of this field is broad.

Since the field is so broad, there is no one typical workplace environment for a criminal justice professional. Many work as police on patrol who spend their time outdoors in cars or walking a beat on foot. Others work as prison guards who oversee the population, but there are also prison workers who report to an office and whose job is to administer prison operations. There are also criminal justice professionals whose job is to investigate or deter cyber-crimes. Their jobs look very much like any other high-tech worker, and many of them can even work remotely. So, until you know what your focus will be, it will be difficult to know what your day-to-day will look like as a criminal justice professional.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in South Dakota

Though South Dakota may not seem like a hotbed for criminal activity, the sparsely populated state still has a need to control its criminal element. To that end, the state is a great place to launch a career in CJ. In fact, there may be some unique opportunities in South Dakota that other states may not offer. This is because South Dakota has a number of large reservations for its indigenous population. Those areas operate under a different set of laws that need criminal justice professionals who are specially trained to work in that rubric. This aspect of South Dakota's criminal justice picture means that the state must address the matter in a unique way.

South Dakota therefore supports strong criminal justice departments in its colleges and universities. Public money is well spent on degree programs at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels. These programs seek to provide the very best instruction possible to help ensure that South Dakotan society is safe and functional.

Online degree programs in South Dakota are also always seeking out the very best faculty members from around the country. They need top-notch instructors with master’s degrees as well as PhDs who work as research faculty and propel the university to new highs. They also strive to recruit and hire faculty that have experience in the state. These professors and instructors are able to provide students with special insights into how South Dakota's criminal justice system works from a practical standpoint. They can also help students understand what happens when a fugitive returns to a reservation or how the state's laws impact law enforcement and even legal defenses.

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Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)

An associate criminal justice degree is a fantastic way to launch one of several criminal justice careers. Since there is no degree requirement for most police work, an associate degree will put you ahead of the pack and could get you raises or promotion more quickly. There are also criminal justice career opportunities for those who study cyber security, paralegal studies, and counseling. In fact, an associate criminal justice degree will help land an entry-level position that may inform later degrees and careers.

An associate criminal justice degree has other advantages. For one thing, community colleges require that their students complete general education college curriculum as part of an associate degree program. This means that graduates with an associate criminal justice degree can enter a bachelor’s degree program in their third year and not have to worry about taking these classes ever again. Though, if this idea interests you, you’ll want to make absolutely sure that you will be able to transfer any credits you earn, either through a transfer agreement or by attending a fully accredited institution. Further, community colleges charge far less per credit hour, meaning that the first two years of a four-year degree could come at a significant discount following this method.

Online Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)

For those who desire a robust, successful criminal justice career, a bachelor’s degree is a must. Depending on what the criminal justice department has to offer, students can focus their bachelor’s criminal justice degree on topics such as forensics, the penal system, criminal law, or law enforcement. Those who desire a career as forensic psychologists may choose a double major that combines psychology and criminal justice.

A bachelor’s criminal justice degree has the added benefit of supporting students who want to add an experiential component to their degrees. Internships and even part-time jobs are often open to those who are in pursuit of a four-year criminal justice degree. These opportunities can help students focus their coursework on specific career paths while also introducing them to their future colleagues. Though an internship may not result in a job opportunity in that firm, agency, or department, it may result in a strong recommendation from a supervisor.

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

These days, a criminal justice master’s degree is increasingly important. Most every career path heavily rewards a master’s degree, and criminal justice is no exception. Students have a lot of choices in this matter, however. A criminal justice professional might desire to advance as an administrative professional, or they might be more interested in expanding their skill sets in areas such as forensic science or cyber security.

Those who are interested in administration may choose a master’s degree in public administration or even an MBA. Forensic experts can look for a master’s criminal justice program that helps them focus on their area of expertise. Some may be interested in studying the forensic aspects of DNA, for instance, while others may be intrigued with forensic accounting or forensic psychology. There is even an ever-growing number of cyber security departments that help law enforcement fight hackers.

Online PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)

A doctorate in criminal justice is relatively rare since most professions in the field do not require one for any level of employment. Nevertheless, there are niche professions within criminal justice that may require, or reward, a PhD. One chief example is the field of forensic psychology. This field requires that professionals hold a PhD in order to work with those credentials. Another area of criminal justice that rewards a PhD is that of cyber security, especially cryptography. Nevertheless, most cyber security professionals will be greatly rewarded by earning a PhD, including a PhD in mathematics or computer science.

A PhD is also a great idea for those who wish to teach or conduct research at the university level. While it is possible to teach undergraduates with a master’s criminal justice degree, a doctorate will open up new opportunities. For instance, a tenure track position will only be available to those with a doctorate. There are also job opportunities for those who wish to be research faculty, a position that allows them to continually study their favorite criminal justice topics while earning a reliable salary.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in South Dakota

Many people grow up with the idea of pursuing a career in criminal justice. They may be influenced by police procedural shows on television, or maybe they are interested in helping rehabilitate those whose life has gone awry. Others simply love the idea of solving a crime with scant evidence and limited time. Regardless, here’s a little bit of information on how to become a criminal justice professional in South Dakota.

First and foremost, budding criminal justice professionals should have a desire to see justice done in their community. They may see how crime has damaged a neighborhood and want to help mend those wounds. Others may have had experience with the criminal justice system either as a criminal or as a victim who was helped by the system.

No matter what the motivation, aspiring criminal justice professionals should all consider pursuing a college degree. Those who are interested in working for their local police department should consider an associate criminal justice degree. Since police departments typically don't require any degree beyond a high school diploma, those who go the extra mile to earn an associate criminal justice degree will be well-rewarded. In fact, it's been shown that police officers who earn at least an associate criminal justice degree become even better police and, as you can’t become a police officer until you are at least 21, you’ll have the time.

There are so many other careers in criminal justice that it's difficult to detail a path for each one. However, students who know that criminal justice is the general field for them should take courses or pursue experiences that can help them choose the proper path. Those who have a strong talent for laboratory science, for instance, can work on a criminal justice degree with a concentration in biological science and forensic methods. Students who are interested in the judicial aspect of criminal justice might start with an associate criminal justice degree and then start their career working as a paralegal for a criminal defense attorney, or a prosecutor's office and eventually return to earn a law degree of their own.

There are also computer whiz kids who are interested in issues related to criminal justice. They might put their talents to use as cyber security experts who could land a position with federal law enforcement. After all, our nation is under perpetual attack from overseas hackers that want to disrupt our system of government and our very social fabric.

Criminal justice careers can take many forms. Students who are interested in the field will be best served by pursuing a criminal justice degree at the associate, bachelor’s, or master’s level.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Psychometrists:
    These workers assist the mental health field by administering psychological tests to various subjects. In the criminal justice realm, psychometrists might work with forensic psychologists who need assessments of their subjects. To start a career as a psychometrist, students should complete a degree in psychology with a focus on criminal justice. Students can also help themselves by studying statistics, since they will need those quantitative skills.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator:
    As the global climate becomes even more precarious, municipalities have a growing need for emergency management coordinators. This job will involve coordinating emergency efforts across a number of local agencies including the police, fire department, and paramedics. Emergency management coordinators may also work at the federal level for FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Forensic Accountant:
    We don't normally think of accountants as criminal justice professionals. However, a forensic accountant is vital when it comes to bringing down major criminals. For instance, Al Capone was only convicted of tax evasion, managing to be exonerated for all of his other alleged crimes. Forensic accountants should certainly study accounting in college, but a criminal justice degree will also inform their later career choices.

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  • Forensic Psychologist:
    These psychological professionals work within the correctional and judicial systems. They use their doctorate degrees to assess criminals to determine whether they were psychologically competent when they committed crimes and then assess would-be parolees to determine the likelihood that they will return to a life of crime.
  • Paralegal:
    This is a terrific career path for those who are interested in criminal justice. Paralegals typically have at least an associate degree either in criminal justice or legal studies. Their daily duties may include legal research, drafting legal documents, or interviewing clients for their attorney. Some even work as investigators who rarely touch a court document.
  • Social Work:
    This field employs workers with degrees starting with a high school diploma. In the criminal justice system, they may work with convicted criminals in hopes of helping them rehabilitate. They might also work to help prevent crime by addressing the social problems that can lead to a person resorting to a life of crime.
  • Private Investigator:
    Often, retired police officers become private investigators. However, all it takes to become a PI is a state license. Private investigators work on a range of cases. These days, a PI may spend most of their time conducting online research, but others conduct stakeouts of errant spouses or go undercover to root out employees who may be embezzling from their employer.
  • Detective:
    This job is found within local police departments and usually requires a bachelor’s criminal justice degree. Detectives conduct investigations that pertain to their area of specialty. Some investigate homicides while others may specialize in crimes against children or cyber-crimes. Many start working as a police officer and then rise into this career in order to earn a higher salary and status in the criminal justice community.

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