What is a Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal Justice DegreeA criminal justice degree is an academic program that explores criminal behaviors in relation to law enforcement, communities and the legal and court systems. Students learn about crime prevention methods and that agencies that promote safety and lawful behavior, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

First and Second Semester Classes

Criminal justice degree programs start with overviews of the criminal justice system’s operations. Students learn about the purposes and functions of these systems in apprehending, prosecuting, punishing and rehabilitating offenders. Historical and current theories of criminal behavior, such as comparative criminology, are explored. This will include theories about the biological and sociological roots of criminal behaviors. Crime categories are introduced, such as drug, organized and white-collar crimes. Students study crime measurements through statistics, research and analysis of social trends. Coursework covers criminal law and procedures, such as the principles of due process, procedural requirements and substantive requirements.

Third and Fourth Semester Classes

During the third and fourth semesters, criminal justice degree programs will cover victim and community survey research, which includes survey design, data collection and reporting. The last semesters also delve deeply into advanced topics, such as corporate crime and terrorism. Classes about corporate and white-collar crime examine the influences of political and commercial power on criminal justice decisions and social perceptions. Because terrorism is emerging as a major threat, classes provide introductions to domestic and global terrorism patterns. These classes present the difficulties associated with defining, understanding and preventing terrorism. Ethics classes introduce some of the basic ethical systems and their practical application to the criminal justice system. Public policy coursework examines the relationships between law, politics and public sentiment in determining criminal statutes.

Program Outcomes

Graduates of these programs will be able to demonstrate their ability to understand emerging challenges, criminal justice vocabulary and major sources of criminal justice statistics. They will be familiar with the various agencies and operational components that make the criminal justice system work. They will have an integrated view of the fundamental issues, trends and concepts related to criminal law and procedures. Social-psychology training will enable students to apply theories to understand, analyze and predict criminal behaviors and social responses. Graduates will be prepared to analyze the threats and vulnerabilities of events, workplaces and public agencies, and then develop appropriate contingency plans to control or prevent risks. Going forward, graduates will be able to identify future problems in the areas of policing, corrections and criminal justice.

Degree Specializations

Criminal justice programs offer a variety of degree specializations, such as policing, which covers the protocols and techniques used by law enforcement officials. Students learn about interviews, crime scenes and offender processing. Forensics introduces the procedures and approaches used to document criminal cases through collecting data and preparing expert testimonies. Topics include evidence collection, crime jurisdictions and digital forensics technologies. Related to this, digital forensics deals with the tools and techniques used to investigate and document illegal activities committed through computers and the Internet. A corrections concentration will teach students about the management theories and practices in correctional institutions.

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Students should note that most criminal justice degree jobs, such as corrections or law enforcement officer, require standardized testing, background checks and intense interviews.