7 Criminal Justice Careers

Criminal Justice Careers
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Are you thinking about pursuing a career in criminal justice? There are several paths you can take. The criminal justice field primarily includes legal and law enforcement careers and even some occupations in the mental health and science fields.

Criminal Defense Attorney or Prosecutor

Attorneys who work in criminal justice are either prosecuting attorneys or criminal defense attorneys. Prosecuting attorneys present evidence in court that they hope will lead to the conviction of defendants in criminal cases. Criminal defense attorneys defend their clients from these charges and make sure their legal rights are protected. To become a lawyer, you will have to attend law school for three years after earning your bachelor's degree. After graduation, you must be admitted to the bar in the state in which you want to practice.

This will require passing a written examination and, depending on the state, sometimes an ethics exam as well. Attorneys earned a median annual salary of $114,970 in 2014.
Learn More About Becoming an Attorney


Judges approve search and arrest warrants. They decide whether to hold a person arrested for a crime in jail until trial and set bail or other conditions for release. They make sure criminal and other cases are handled according to the letter of the law. They instruct juries on proper procedure and handle disputes between defense and prosecuting attorneys. Judges sometimes determine an individual's guilt and sentences him or her. To become a judge, you will first need to earn a degree in law and typically gain experience by working as a lawyer.

Judges earned a median annual salary of $115,140 in 2014.

Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists use their training in psychology to assist lawyers and judges in criminal and civil cases. They perform psychological assessments and interpret and present their findings, sometimes as courtroom testimony. To work as a forensic psychologist, you will have to get a PhD in psychology or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) and then receive specialized training in forensic psychology. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide separate salary information for forensic psychologists.

They instead provide general data for clinical, counseling and school psychologists who they report earned a median salary of $68,900 in 2014.
Learn More About Becoming a Psychologists

Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. They are also called crime scene investigators. To become a forensic scientist, you will need to complete at least two years of specialized training or earn an associate degree in an applied science or science-related technology. On-the-job training is also very important. You can expect to learn how to collect and document evidence during this time. Forensic scientists' median annual salary, as of 2014, was $55,360.


Paralegals help attorneys prepare for criminal trials by doing research and drafting legal documents. They also assist them during trials. If you want to become a paralegal, you will likely have to earn an associate or bachelor's degree in paralegal studies. Alternatively, if you already have a bachelor's degree in another subject, you can get a certificate in paralegal studies. Some employers will hire job candidates who don't have a degree or certificate and, instead, provide on-the-job training.

Paralegals earned a median annual salary of $48,350 in 2014.

Social Worker

Some social workers work in correctional facilities. They may provide services to inmates who have emotional, mental and behavioral disorders. You will need to earn a bachelor's or master's degree in social work as well as a license from the state in which you want to work if you want to become a social worker. Social workers' median annual earnings were $41,380 in 2014.

Special Agent or Criminal Investigator

Special agents and criminal investigators work for local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, looking for violations of laws. They gather facts and collect evidence. While some agencies will hire job candidates who have only a high school diploma, if you want to work for a United States federal agency, you will need to earn a bachelor's degree, or at least take some college coursework. Special agents earned a median annual salary of $79,870 in 2014.
Learn More About Becoming a Special Agent

Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/ and
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/ 
(visited September 18, 2015).

Comparing Criminal Justice Careers
Carreer Minimum Education License Median Salary
Attorney Law degree (JD) Must pass state bar exam $114,970
Forensic Psychologists PhD or PsyD All states require license or certification $68,900
Forensic Scientist 2 yrs. specialized training or an associate degree None $55,360
Judge Law degree (JD) License to practice law $115,140
Paralegal Associate, Bachelor's or Certificate in Paralegal Studies None $48,350
Social Worker Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Social Work All states require a license $41,380
Special Agent Varies from HS diploma to bachelor's degree None $79,870