Interested In A Career In Criminal Justice? Some Career Advice

finger printMaybe you’re one of those people who loves Law and Order or Criminal Minds or CSI, and the like. If you’re like a lot of people, you love those shows and want to know how you can get started in one of those careers.

And don’t forget the FBI. Everyone wants to work for them.

But how do you get those jobs?

The answer is, it’s not always easy and it often requires a lot of training, hard work and persistence.

Many CSI-like jobs require a degree in science. This is especially true if you want to work in a lab. If you’re taking the route of earning a college degree, you would want to focus on biochemistry or biology as your major.

Check to see if your college has a specific track for people interested in forensic science. Some schools offer programs in which you can start an undergraduate degree in biochemistry or biology and ultimately work towards a Masters degree in forensic science.

Not everyone with a CSI-type of job has a college degree. Some people start their CSI work in law enforcement and through training in the department, become crime scene technicians. They might have some college training or no college training at all.

Many people think that to work for the FBI, you need a criminology or psychology or criminal justice degree but that’s not necessarily the case. People with those types of degrees might be considered eligible to work for the FBI under the “diversified” category but they are primarily recruiting people with specific, critical skills and experience. These include: accounting, finance, computer science, foreign language, intelligence experience, law enforcement/investigative experience, military and physical science.

Applicants for the Special Agent position, generally must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in one of the aforementioned fields.

Cyber crime has more recently become a major focus of the FBI. In December 2014, the FBI was specifically recruiting “technical talent, including computer scientists, IT specialists and engineers.”

If you’re interested in working in the criminal justice system, you might consider attending the police academy. Police academies are specialized schools that certify people to become law enforcement officers. Tuition is about $5,000 and completing the program can take anywhere from six to eight months. The cost and the length of time to completion varies, depending on your location. Some police agencies require at least some college credits, as well as having completed the police academy.

If you have earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or criminology, this does not qualify you to become a law enforcement officer. You would still have to complete the police academy.

There are other ways to work in the criminal justice system besides being a police officer. Earning a degree in social work, for instance, can prepare you to work in the court system as a mitigation specialist, Guardian ad litem, or parole or probation officer, or as an advocate in some capacity.

There are more mentally ill people housed in jails and prisons than in psychiatric hospitals. There’s no shortage of work for social workers, and others with similar training, in the criminal justice system.

Finally, I’ve noticed that many students are so focused on working for the FBI that they overlook many other prestigious and interesting job opportunities. Working for the FBI is very rewarding but you should also consider the many other federal, state and local agencies to work for, including (but not limited to): Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Postal Inspectors Office, Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and so forth.

Be open to all potential opportunities and don’t limit yourself.

15 Criminal Justice Career Options for Social Workers

Many people inquire about what role social workers have in the criminal justice system. They are particularly interested in whether or not they could work in the criminal justice system once they graduated with their social work degree. The answer is yes.

At the undergraduate level, people with degrees in social work, psychology, sociology, and related degrees, are often competing for the same jobs. Some refer to these jobs as “entry level.”

Individuals who work in the criminal justice field and who a have degree in social work may consider themselves forensic social workers. There are degree programs across the country that focus on forensic social workbut they’re relatively sparse, compared to other traditional social work programs. You can read more about those programs at the National Organization For Forensic Social Work (NOFSW) website.

One of the many benefits of having a social work degree is its versatility. Below is a list of possible jobs that one could hold in the criminal justice system with a social work degree. Many require a master’s degree in social work but not all of them.

15 Criminal Justice Career Options for Social Workers

1. Mental Health or Drug Court  Coordinator/Program Manager

2. Guardian Ad Litem (court-appointed individual who represents the best interests of the child in a divorce or parental responsibility case)

3. Parole or Probation Officer

4. Assisting a team of lawyers investigating a case of possible innocence (i.e. Innocence Project)

5. Victim Advocate

6. Sex Offender Therapist

7. Policy Analyst

8. Providing expert testimony in a legal trial

9. Assistant to a public defender

10. Forensic investigator at the local Medical Examiners’ office

11. Custody Evaluator

12. Mental Health Evaluator

13. Mitigation Specialist

14. Case Manager for offenders leaving prison and transiting back into society

15. Conflict Mediator