Are you addicted to watching Criminal Minds? Do you want to help enforce the law, take part in the judicial process or work toward correcting criminal behavior? Consider studying criminal justice, as there are many types of careers to pursue!
Those who work in criminal justice have to understand the law, court system and criminal thinking. Students who enjoy criminal law often go into types of careers like law enforcement positions, such as security guards and patrol officers.
Others like Adam Woody, who graduated with a degree in criminology and psychology from Drury University (www.drury.edu) in 2003, liked studying the judicial process, so he chose to become a criminal defense attorney.
“If you’re going to be in the criminal defense field, a criminal justice degree is a great way to learn the process at an early point in your career and the reasons why this field even exists,” Woody said.
Depending on which area of criminal justice you choose to focus (an which type of career you plan to pursue), you’ll need to develop a set of technical skills along with the theoretical understanding of criminal justice. For a law enforcement position that means learning to shoot, conducting surveillance and driving at high speeds. As an attorney you’ll need to be a confident researcher, writer and public speaker.
“For me it was all about being well-rounded. I wanted to know everything about the criminal justice world before I decided to plunge into it,” said Meghan Sumney, who earned a criminal justice degree from Defiance College (www.defiance.edu) in 2008.
Sumney now works as a data analyst for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Ohio.
As a data analyst, Sumney spends her workdays handling items seized by agents and task force officers from the DEA. She inputs the data into their computer system, analyzes it and ensures that all the information is accurate and accessible to use in legal proceedings. Woody works long days as a criminal defense attorney. He usually goes in at 6:30 a.m. to work on case files and prepare for a full day in court. Until about 3 p.m. he represents his clients in trials, arguing and filing motions before judges and juries. He spends the rest of the day back at his office in meetings with new and existing clients.
Is it for you?
A successful criminal justice career requires a mix of determination, patience and skill. It also helps if you’re adept at keeping your cool in stressful situations. But perhaps most importantly, you have to have a strong desire to see the justice system work and have compassion for the people involved. “What it really takes to be successful in the field of criminal justice, or law in particular, is a passion for it,” Woody says.
National average salaries: $55,180 for patrol officers, $129,020 for attorneys and $50,500 for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov).
Jessica Lymberopoulos is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas.