The trend in television shows over the last decade or so has revolved around criminal justice – think CSI, Law & Order, spin-offs of the two and the like – and has sparked an interest in criminal justice careers. However, the reality of these careers can be quite different from how they are portrayed on television. That is why it is important for those considering a career in criminal justice to have an understanding of the career in reality as opposed to how it is depicted on television.
A very versatile career field, criminal justice covers a broad spectrum of possibilities. From police officer to park ranger, FBI agent to border patrol, correctional officer to probation officer, CSI to toxicologist, judge to paralegal, private investigator to U.S. Marshall, and everything in between. In fact, criminal justice careers account for over 3 million jobs nationwide. The sheer number of potential careers and possible education routes can make the initial decision of what to study and which criminal justice school in Florida to study at a difficult decision. However, with a basic understanding of the criminal justice careers available to you along with a general understanding of what is required to enter each career, you will be headed in the right direction.
The majority of career paths in Criminal Justice will require at least an associate’s degree. Due to the way information is used and shared, it is also important for those considering this field to have a good understanding of technology. Along with education, attributes such as the ability to make calm, informed decisions under pressure, an ability to handle people, a sense of responsibility, self restraint, and being physically fit (for law enforcement jobs in particular) are important.
Some of the most popular criminal justice careers, a brief description of what they do, educational requirements and salary range are listed below. The salary range represents the base starting salary for each career up to the highest salary. An individual’s salary for each listed career depends upon a number of factors including experience, education, location and the type of organization with which they are employed (Federal Government, Private organization, small or large organization etc.).
Criminal Justice Career Opportunities
Customs agents inspect luggage, shipments, and people, and also inspect cargo on trains, ships, airplanes, and vehicles entering or leaving the United States. Customs agents may also arrest and question suspects.
Salary range: $28,349 to $45,648 annually.
Marshals work for the Justice Department, and do everything from protect judges and witnesses, transport prisoners, investigate fugitives, to being in charge of assets seized under criminal investigations. This job requires that you have a bachelor’s degree, and/or have 3 years of qualifying experience, or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
Salary Range: $30,000 to $46,000 annually.
Employed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA agents work to enforce laws that govern the sale and distribution of illegal drugs. DEA agents coordinate investigations, monitor criminals, and conduct surveillance of drug. To gain employment as a DEA Agent you must possess either a bachelors degree, have substantial professional experience related to the position, or have three or more years of substantial work experience and/or specialized, relevant skills such as military, information management, or foreign language fluency. After being hired, new agents also receive specialized training at the DEA’s academy on Quantico, Virginia.
Salary Range: $35,369 to over $90,000 annually.
Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigations are at the higher end of federal law enforcement. FBI agents investigate crimes in a wide variety of categories from white collar crime to terrorism, fraud, bank robbery, extortion, kidnapping, organized crime and even cyber security. Agents often travel to interview suspects, and work with other enforcement agencies. A bachelors or master’s degree in science, engineering, accounting, finance, foreign languages, or criminal justice is required.
Salary Range: $51,000 to $106,000 annually.
Private Security Guard
This job category covers everything from being a building guard to running a large security force for a mall or a large company. Surveillance techniques are a key part of private security, along with knowledge of terrorism, business security and corrections. Although most companies do not require a higher education degree, higher paying jobs will require an associates or bachelors degree in criminal justice or a related major.
Salary Range: $21,000 to $31,000 annually.
Essentially they conduct surveillance and collect information for a wide variety of clients including attorneys, businesses, and anyone in need of personal, legal or financial help. Many private investigators are self-employed, which means that their earnings depend on their ability to build up a clientele. Although there are no formal education requirements for most private investigator positions, taking college level courses are helpful when looking for career advancement opportunities. Corporate investigators are required to have at a minimum a bachelor’s degree.
Salary Range: $19,720 to $64,380 annually.
A Bailiff is charged with maintaining order in a courtroom. They monitor the court for hidden weapons, bombs, or other security threats. In addition they introduce the judge to the court, instruct people about courtroom policies, enforce rules when necessary, escort prisoners to and from the courtroom, physically handle evidence, swear in witnesses, as well as secure and accompany jurors to hotels for trials lasting more than one day. At a minimum, Bailiff’s are required to have a high school diploma or GED. To improve your chances of gaining employment as a bailiff, a 2 or 4 year college degree, vocational school certificate, or police academy diploma is suggested.
Salary Range: $38,000 to $61,500 annually.
Court clerks work on all the administrative jobs in the court – process and proofread legal documents, mail letters, schedule appointments and hearings, administer oaths, and record minutes of a trial. Clerks must be skilled at bookkeeping, word processing, business and personnel management, budgeting and accounting. A high school diploma or GED is required at a minimum. However, most courts prefer that clerks possess a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline.
Salary Range: $29,990 to over $47,700 annually.
Probation officers are responsible for monitoring and working with individuals on probation or parole to prevent them from committing new crimes and help them be productive members of society. Probation officers communicate about an individual on probation or parole with lawyers, judges, employees and even family members. Individuals in these positions typically have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, social work, criminal justice, or correctional counseling.
Salary Range: $35,000 to $100,000 annually.
Crime Scene Investigator
A specialty that involves evaluating crime scenes and writing reports that help police investigators decide which suspects to seek out and interview. They supervise, evaluate, investigate and analyze complex crime scene investigations, using various tool and techniques to secure, cultivate and collect physical evidence. They also testify in court to support the evidence collected.
Salary Range: $25,000 to $76,000 annually.
Forensic scientists work in crime labs and normally have a fairly settled, 40 hour-a-week schedule. They conduct analysis of DNA, bullets, hair samples, weapons and other evidence involved in crimes. They also prepare reports, preserve evidence, discuss collected evidence with law enforcement and attorneys, and testify in court. A bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a natural science such as biology or chemistry is typically required.
Salary Range: $22,800 to $50,000 annually.
Police officers work across a wide variety of local, regional and federal departments and are responsible for general law enforcement duties. They respond to calls, do patrols, arrest criminals, interview witnesses, and investigate burglaries among other basic police duties. Education requirements for police officers depend upon the locality. Larger cities typically require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice while smaller cities only require a high school education. It has become more common for candidates to have at least an associate’s degree or some postsecondary education including courses in criminal investigation, criminal law, community relations, and administration.
Salary Range: $32,400 to over $88,000 annually.
Paralegals research cases to help prepare a lawyer to prepare for trials, hearings, closing arguments, and corporate meetings, file appropriate motions and write briefs. Traditionally trained on the job, individuals looking to beat out the competition can obtain certificates and degrees at community colleges, business schools, and universities.
Salary Range: $25,000 to over $67,000 annually.
Criminal Justice Programs in Florida
If you are serious about a career in criminal justice, then finding a program that results in a diploma, certificate, associates, or bachelor’s degree will help you beat out the competition and advance in your career down the road. Although an associates or bachelor’s degree will yield you the most opportunities, earning a diploma or certificate can be the right decision for individuals who have already obtained a degree in another field.
What Will You Learn?
Most criminal justice programs cover a wide variety of subjects. The objective is to encompass a basic knowledge of everything that you might require in a future criminal justice career. Common core courses will include criminology, law and psychology. Others may include policing, punishment and corrections, crime and crime scene analysis, writing and public speaking. The courses that you take will depend greatly upon the area you choose to emphasize or specialize in.
How Long Will it Take and How Much Will it Cost?
The amount of time it takes for you to earn an education in a field of criminal justice will depend on the end result – diploma, certificate, associates or bachelors. A diploma or certificate may only take 3 to 6 months to complete, an associate’s degree will typically take two years, and a bachelors degree will take four years to complete. The cost will correspond not only to the degree sought, but also the school that you choose to attend. Typically it is less expensive to attend a community college or technical university as compared to a private university.
An associate’s degree in criminal justice at Eastern Florida State College will cost just above $6500 not including books and other fees. For comparison, an associate’s degree at City College in Miami will require you to complete 90 credit hours at a cost of $305 per credit hour for a total of $27,450.
There are an extensive number of options in the state of Florida for individuals seeking a higher education in criminal justice. From certificates all the way to PhD’s, there are over 108 accredited criminal justice programs offered. Once you have determined which field of criminal justice you would like to enter, take the time to figure out the best program available to you for that career.
The Future Outlook for Criminal Justice Professionals
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities in criminal justice are anticipated to be good through 2018 – increasing by as much as 19%. The demand for criminal justice workers is of course tied to a growing population which is linked to a greater likelihood of crimes. An increase in crimes requires more criminal justice workers to work on cases, protect residents, and rehabilitate offenders. For this reason, the majority of opportunities can be found in heavy populated cities.
Whether you decide that you want to investigate crimes, track down suspects, work with at-risk youth, administer court proceedings, supervise convicted offenders, or examine forensic evidence the field of criminal justice can help you to meet your career and professional goals.
Ready to move towards a career in criminal justice? Review our list of criminal justice programs in Florida. To find a school near you, enter the name of your city in the search box at the top of the page.