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What is Criminal Justice?

A career in criminal justice is ideal for those who enjoy working with the public and helping people in their hours of need. Although most people think of criminal justice professionals as police officers, prison guards, and probation officers, those are just three on the many careers a person can have with a criminal justice education.

Although the terms do sound as if you’ll be working with all criminals, all the time, many other first responder and emergency management careers fall under this umbrella, as well. For example, social workers and private investigators both fall into this category, and neither necessarily work with people who have committed crimes. There is a lot you can do with a criminal justice education in the state of Washington.

A criminal justice professional works within the criminal justice system. They could work in tandem with various parts of the system, such as law enforcement that deals with those who have committed crimes or by trying to keep people from even committing crimes in the first place. They may help those who have committed crimes not to reoffend. They may work in the courts. No matter where you end up. criminal justice professionals work with a variety of people of all ages and walks of life. They investigate crimes, speak with victims and witnesses of crimes, 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 the area.

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Online Criminal Justice Education in Washington

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for workers in the criminal justice field is going to increase between now and 2030, so this is a good time to get started on your education. There are currently over 66,000 people employed in criminal justice in some compacity in Washington state and, in many areas, the demand for more workers, such as social workers and rehabilitation specialists, is expected to grow faster than the average job growth rate in other positions. Police officers, security guards, and other protective service workers will also be in demand. And, although Washington’s biggest industries are finance, real estate, and manufacturing, this still means that white collar crimes have to be investigated, people with prominent careers still have substance abuse and emotional issues, children still need to be protected, and natural disasters have to be prepared for and recovered from. So, whether you’re interested in protecting children or helping the state when a disaster strikes, a career in criminal justice in Washington could be right around the corner for you.

Depending on a person’s chosen career path, the type and level of education they need can vary. For those who want to enter law enforcement, attending a police academy is the typical approach as an associate degree or bachelor’s is not required. Officers can then opt to go to a regular university to attain more education so they can move up in the ranks of their department. Other careers, such as social workers, must attain bachelor’s degrees and a license to work. Other careers require a combination of degrees and education. Below are some options of degrees you can pursue if you’re aiming for a role within criminal justice.

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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 or prison guards. Police officers must go through the police academy but earning a degree can make promotions happen more quickly. In most states, you cannot apply to be a police officer until you’re 21, giving you more time to complete a degree, but Washington allows those as young as 18 to apply. Thus, you might already have a job when you decide you need more education, and an associate degree is the most time-efficient option.

A two-year online degree in criminal justice can prepare a person to do a variety of jobs and can provide an advantage for those who wish 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 in subjects such as.

  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • Restorative Justice
  • Victimology
  • Terrorism
  • Criminal Justice Policy
  • Emergency Management

Associate degrees typically take two years to complete and, when or if the student chooses, the credits earned with the associate degree can transfer to a bachelor’s. However, it’s important to attend a school with full accreditation, and you might want to check for a transfer agreement with a four-year school if you think you might want to earn a bachelor’s later.

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, earning a bachelor’s can help you do so faster or help you earn a higher position. 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. 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
  • Intro to the Court System
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Legal Issues in Corrections
  • Policing in America
  • Criminal Investigation and Criminal Justice Research Methods
  • Drugs and Crime
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • Police Organization and Management
  • Computer Criminology
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Victimology

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. For those who want to move into white-collar crime investigation, they can combine criminal justice with business and finance and work in cyber security, loss prevention, or forensic accounting. The degree also lends enough credibility to freelance as a private investigator 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 criminal or forensic psychologist or work in forensics in some capacity. However, there are definitely PhDs in criminal justice available, and they can help you earn a position in which you help craft policy for the criminal justice system, can help you earn a higher position in law, let you perform research in the criminal justice field, and more.

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Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Washington

There is no clear-cut path to becoming a criminal justice professional. Many times, people start out with one career goal and end up doing something completely different. For example, a person might start out wanting to become a police officer, but then later discover they’d rather pursue a career in social work or law. That said, the first thing a person should decide is what they are most interested in and pursue that path. Unfortunately, because of the very different educational requirements, switching from one profession to another within criminal justice can be somewhat difficult, though not impossible.

So, if you want to work in forensics, you must start with a science-heavy education, and you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. If you want to work in law, you can start with a paralegal education or any undergraduate degree that will complement your future law degree. Once a person has determined their desired career path, getting the required education is the next step. Someone who chooses social work will need to get a degree in social work and prepare to take a licensing exam. Meanwhile, someone who wants to enter law enforcement will take the exam for the police academy and then complete their training at the academy. Others might opt for a criminal justice degree and then choose a career that requires that degree.

For those who wish to work in the police force in Washington, you’ll need to be at least 18 years old. If you wish to be a state trooper, you must be 19.5 years of age. You must have completed your GED or have a high school diploma. You must pass a background check, have no felonies or DUIs on your record, and have a license.

Once the required education is achieved, a person is ready to begin their career. It is usually at this point a person decides if they want to stick with their current career path or make a change. Police officers might decide to remain officer or might 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.

Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates

  • Psychometrists
    When a person’s mental state is in question, psychiatric tests are often ordered. A psychometrist conducts the testing that is requested and the results of these tests are used to determine if a person has the mental capacity to have committed a crime, if they are mentally stable enough to stand trial, etc.
  • Emergency Management Coordinator
    An emergency management coordinator takes charge after an emergency situation has been identified. It could be weather related such as a tornado or flood, a forest fire, or it could be a pandemic or other community situation. The coordinator puts together the appropriate people and agencies to help the community deal with and recover from the emergency. They work closely with other first responders and governmental agencies to make sure needed resources are in place and that there is adequate manpower to assist with the distribution of items and information.

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  • Forensic Accountant
    A forensic accountant specializes in looking for fraud, money laundering, embezzlement, and other types of financial malfeasance. Forensic accountants are skilled at analyzing financial transactions and records and tracing assets to find out if transactions are legal.
  • Paralegal
    Paralegals work with attorneys on cases. They write memos, briefs, and other legal correspondence. They may also do legal research, perform interviews, and complete other office administrative duties.
  • Social Worker
    Social workers help struggling individuals and families get the support services they need. They work with and for agencies that help children, families, the elderly, veterans, and other people who need help. Those with the proper education and licensure can also diagnose and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral issues.
  • Conservation Officer
    Conservation officers are tasked with protecting the environment from those who would take advantage of it. They prevent illegal fishing and hunting on protected lands, monitor the area for possible dangers, and ensure that those who are using the property have the required licenses and paperwork to do so.
  • Crime Scene Investigator
    Crime scene investigators collect evidence from a location where a crime was committed. They look for and gather all possible evidence to assist law enforcement in their investigation. They may also interview witnesses, take samples from suspects, and perform other duties in order to assist law enforcement in finding the perpetrator.

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