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The Best Criminal Justice Careers 2020

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Careers in criminal justice are tough, but the right person will find them rewarding.

Working in the criminal justice system can mean job opportunities in law enforcement, the legal system, and corrections.

Criminal justice professionals work in police departments, federal law enforcement agencies, prisons, and courthouses across the country. They also patrol the streets and protect public safety. Depending on the position, jobs in criminal justice can require specialized training in areas like investigation, forensics, psychology, or finance.

Our list of the best criminal justice careers explores common job responsibilities, earning potential, and educational requirements for a variety of criminal justice jobs. We list also careers by salary, ranking them from highest to lowest pay rates.

Best Criminal Justice Careers

Best Criminal Justice Careers

Information Security Officer

Information security officers protect an organization's data by implementing cybersecurity procedures. They install and manage security hardware devices and software applications, making sure that unauthorized users cannot access confidential data. Information security officers also train users on accessing secure data. When data breaches occur, they conduct investigations and implement system improvements to prevent future cyberattacks. The position requires a bachelor's in cybersecurity or a related field, such as criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$92,482

Prison Warden

Prison wardens are the most senior correctional officers in prisons. They perform administrative and supervisory duties, such as creating schedules, managing budgets, and setting policies to promote safety. In addition, prison wardens make employment decisions about hiring and training. They also act as leaders within the prison while delegating responsibilities to correctional officers. Prison wardens typically hold a bachelor's in criminal justice and have several years of professional experience in corrections.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$88,264

Homicide Detective

Homicide detectives investigate crimes that cause a loss of life. They collect evidence at the crime scene, identify potential suspects based on evidence analysis and interviews, and document their investigations through written reports. Homicide detectives also work closely with district attorneys to bring criminal charges in homicide cases. Law enforcement jobs like homicide detective typically require a bachelor's in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field, plus several years of professional experience as a police officer.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$74,737

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply their knowledge of psychology to understand crimes and evaluate criminals. They work with law enforcement to create criminal profiles, evaluate the competency of suspects to stand trial, and conduct psychological research. Forensic psychologists may also interview prisoners to understand their motivations, diagnose mental health issues, and write reports for courts to use when making sentencing decisions. Careers in forensic psychology often require a doctorate in counseling or psychology and a state-issued license.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$69,453

Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants detect fraudulent activities and conduct investigations. They work in insurance, banking, and law enforcement, analyzing financial evidence and serving as expert witnesses in trials. Forensic accountants who work with police departments uncover white-collar crimes like embezzlement, money laundering, or hidden assets, sometimes using analytical software programs to uncover fraud. Most positions require a bachelor's or master's degree in accounting or a closely related field, like forensic accounting, finance, or criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$68,347

FBI Agent

FBI agents conduct investigations for the Federal Bureau of Investigations. They collect evidence, interview witnesses, and identify suspects. FBI agents often work with local law enforcement agents to arrest or detain suspects. They work at field offices across the country and at the FBI's regional or national headquarters. Careers in federal law enforcement require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field. Agents must also complete specialized training.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$65,383

Police Detective

Police detectives investigate serious crimes, including property crimes, assault, drug crimes, and homicide. They analyze evidence, interview victims and witnesses, and build cases against suspects. Police detectives document their investigations by writing reports and cataloging evidence. They work closely with district attorneys and judges to ensure legal requirements are met while conducting investigations. Law enforcement jobs like police detective typically require a bachelor's in criminal justice or a closely related field, plus professional experience.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$63,044

Computer Forensic Specialist

Computer forensic specialists recover materials and data from computers, smartphones, and other digital devices. They rely on software programs and cybersecurity techniques to recover deleted information and corrupted files. Computer forensic specialists working in law enforcement gather information related to criminal activities, create reports based on their findings, and may testify during trials. Computer forensic specialists often hold a bachelor's degree in computer science or criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$62,605

Criminal Investigator

Criminal investigators collect and interpret evidence to investigate criminal issues. They visit crime scenes to collect evidence, work with forensic specialists to understand crime scene evidence, and interview witnesses and victims to identify potential suspects. Criminal investigators may also conduct surveillance or go undercover to solve crimes. They also testify in court. Criminal investigators commonly hold a bachelor's in criminal justice or a similar degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$61,657

Fraud Investigator

Fraud investigators analyze data to uncover cases of financial fraud. They work in the accounting, insurance, and law enforcement fields, where they examine financial information and identify fraud. Fraud investigators also conduct interviews with witnesses and suspects to build evidence in fraud cases. They may also testify in court. Many of these professionals have backgrounds in law enforcement or private investigation and a bachelor's degree in finance, accounting, or a similar field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$60,805

Criminalist

Criminalists help law enforcement officers reconstruct crimes to identify suspects. They analyze samples from crime scenes, including fingerprints and DNA evidence, drawing on forensic techniques to identify relevant evidence and create case reports on cases. Criminalists often work in laboratories, coordinating with detectives to provide scientific evidence for cases. Like other forensic jobs, criminalists generally hold a bachelor's degree in forensic science, criminal justice, or another science field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$59,486

Border Patrol Agent

Border patrol agents monitor the country's borders to halt illegal immigration and stop contraband items, like drugs, from crossing the border. They patrol land and water borders to prevent trafficking while monitoring border crossings and ports for illegal activities and threats. Border patrol agents rely on electronic sensors, aircraft monitoring, and other technology to keep the border secure.

The U.S. border patrol has faced criticism for its treatment of immigrants, especially refugees and undocumented persons already living in the U.S. Like other federal law enforcement jobs, border patrol agents typically hold a bachelor's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$58,543

Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists analyze material in laboratories to solve criminal cases. They collect evidence, analyze crime scenes, and draw conclusions from the results. Forensic scientists also testify about their findings and the analysis process in court. As specialists in forensics, they may also train law enforcement officials on the best procedures at crime scenes. Forensic jobs like forensic scientist typically require a bachelor's degree at minimum, and some employers require a master's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$55,889

Forensic Entomologist

Forensic entomologists use their knowledge of insects to help law enforcement officials conduct criminal investigations. They study insects on postmortem bodies to help determine things like time of death. Forensic entomologists can also determine where someone died, link victims and suspects using insect evidence, and collect samples to solve murders. They also write reports and testify about their findings in court. Forensic jobs like forensic entomologist require college-level training in biology, entomology, and criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$55,182

Forensic Chemist

Forensic chemists help coroners and medical examiners determine causes of death by performing laboratory tests. They perform toxicology tests, analyze chemical reports, and conduct tests on evidence. Forensic chemists also develop tests to isolate drugs from samples. As specialists in chemistry and toxicology, forensic chemists must understand how to use different instruments to analyze samples. Forensic chemists must hold a bachelor's or master's degree in chemistry or a related field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$55,002

Forensic DNA Analyst

Forensic DNA analysts specialize in conducting laboratory analyses of DNA samples. They work with police and crime scene investigators to analyze DNA samples found at crime scenes. When analyzing DNA, forensic DNA analysts use equipment, like spectrometers, to isolate genetic material. After conducting an analysis, forensic DNA analysts can use it to create a genetic profile of the suspect. They also write reports on their findings and testify in court about their conclusions. Forensic jobs like forensic DNA analyst typically require a bachelor's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$54,055

Private Investigator

Private investigators conduct investigations by performing surveillance, completing background checks, and analyzing documents. They help clients recover lost assets, find missing persons, and research financial fraud. Private investigators may work in the field or in an office, depending on the type of work. Their duties can include reviewing financial documents, locating witnesses, and serving legal documents. The educational requirements for this career vary, but some private investigators hold a bachelor's in criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$53,952

State Trooper

State troopers are law enforcement officers at the state level. They perform similar duties as police officers, including investigating criminal activities. State troopers arrest and question suspects, interview witnesses and victims, and testify in criminal trials. They also secure crime scenes, provide emergency assistance during natural disasters, and serve warrants. Law enforcement jobs like state trooper generally require a postsecondary degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$53,920

Mediator

Mediators resolve legal disputes, acting as a neutral third party to help both sides negotiate and reach a resolution. Mediators help parties avoid a trial by reaching a nonlitigious agreement. During the mediation process, mediators examine documents and interview both parties to understand the case. Mediators work to reach a confidential agreement with both sides. They typically hold a bachelor's degree, and many mediators have backgrounds as attorneys.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$51,730

Police Officer

Police officers protect public safety and enforce local laws. They monitor threats to the public, patrol neighborhoods to deter criminal activity, and respond to complaints and emergency calls. Police officers also interview victims and witnesses, collect evidence at crime scenes, and arrest suspects. During a trial, police officers testify about investigations and the evidence collected. Law enforcement jobs like police officer sometimes require a bachelor's in criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$51,691

Court Reporter

Court reporters create written transcripts of court proceedings. These transcripts serve as official records of trials. During a trial, court reporters record statements from witnesses, attorneys, and judges. They may also read back portions of transcripts during the trial. Some court reporters use stenotype machines to create a shorthand account of a trial, while others use recordings or software programs to create written transcripts. Court reporters typically receive specialized training through a technical or vocational program.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$51,087

Paralegal

Paralegals assist attorneys by providing legal support services. They file legal materials like motions, interview clients, and edit legal documents. Paralegals also accompany lawyers to court, edit briefs, and supervise junior paralegals. They need strong written communication skills, knowledge of legal terminology, and familiarity with the legal system to perform their duties. Most paralegal positions require an associate degree or certificate in paralegal studies, but some employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$48,179

Crime Analyst

Crime analysts work in law enforcement, analyzing crime scene evidence in a laboratory. After crime scene investigators collect fingerprints, DNA evidence, and weapons at a crime scene, crime analysts use laboratory equipment to process evidence and help investigators solve crimes. Crime analysts also research criminal activity and analysis methods. Crime analysts usually need a bachelor's in criminal justice or a closely related field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$47,079

Crime Scene Investigator

Crime scene investigators analyze crime scenes and collect evidence to solve crimes. They secure crime scenes and examine evidence while still on site. Crime scene investigators follow law enforcement protocols while taking DNA samples, lifting fingerprints, and documenting evidence. By collecting and analyzing evidence at crime scenes, crime scene investigators help prosecutors build a case against suspects. Most crime scene investigators hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or forensic science.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$46,438

Deputy Sheriff

Deputy sheriffs enforce state and local laws to protect public safety. They patrol the jurisdiction to respond to emergency calls or crimes in progress. Deputy sheriffs also investigate public complaints, interview witnesses, and carry out criminal investigations. Like other law enforcement officers, deputy sheriffs may serve warrants, conduct searches, and appear in court as witnesses. Deputy sheriffs may need a college degree in criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$46,023

Parole Officer

Parole officers help criminal offenders rehabilitate and re-enter society after serving a prison sentence. They place parolees in temporary housing and work placements while monitoring the parolee's behavior. Parole officers also connect parolees with job training programs and vocational rehabilitation opportunities. During an offender's parole, the parole officer monitors the parolee and creates reports on their compliance with the conditions of parole. Jobs in criminal justice like parole officer often require a criminal justice degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$43,517

Probation Officer

Probation officers help criminal offenders follow their probation orders. They investigate offenders to determine whether they should receive probation, work with law enforcement officers and judges to determine probation requirements, and meet with offenders to explain the terms of a probation sentence. During an offender's probation, the probation officer regularly meets with the offender to monitor their compliance. Criminal justice careers in probations generally require a bachelor's in criminal justice or a related field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$43,138

Correctional Counselor

Correctional counselors oversee inmates at a jail or prison. They monitor the behavior of inmates and offer counseling services to help manage behavioral issues. Correctional counselors also connect inmates with education or job training programs and make recommendations on early release. Correctional counselors may also specialize in mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders. Criminal justice jobs in correctional counseling typically require at least a master's degree in social work, criminal justice, or a similar field.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$42,753

Bailiff

Bailiffs maintain order in courtrooms. They announce the arrival of the judge, instruct jurors and witnesses on where to sit, and escort files to the judge. Bailiffs also handle disturbances during a trial by escorting people from the courtroom or removing jurors from the courthouse. Depending on the size of the court, the bailiff may also escort defendants from the courtroom or arrange lodging for jurors. Some bailiff jobs may require law enforcement training.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$40,776

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers maintain safety and order in prisons and jails. They enforce procedures in the facility, conduct inspections of holding cells to confiscate banned items, and monitor inmates to make sure they follow procedures. Correctional officers also maintain logs and write incident reports to help wardens review operations. Correctional officers have come under fire for their poor treatment of the prisoners they work with. The industry needs scrupulous professionals who value the lives of the people they’re entrusted with watching over.

Most correctional officers complete some college training in law enforcement or corrections. For example, entry-level criminal justice jobs in corrections may require an associate degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$39,751

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help people dealing with substance abuse disorders. They counsel individuals and groups on overcoming addiction and evaluate patients to create a personalized recovery plan. Counselors help clients make progress toward their goals and connect with community services. Most positions require at least a bachelor's degree and a state-issued license, while some roles require a master's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$39,372

Correctional Services Specialist

Correctional services specialists provide social services for offenders currently in custody. They also support offenders on probation or parole by helping them access rehabilitation services. Correctional services specialists meet with offenders to design rehabilitation or treatment plans. They make recommendations about conditional release or parole and follow up to make sure the offender follows the plan. Correctional services specialists also recommend education or employment stipulations for offenders. The position requires a background in criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$39,353

Evidence Technician

Evidence technicians support investigators and forensic scientists by collecting evidence at crime scenes. They visit crime scenes, where they collect, label, and index evidence according to law enforcement guidelines. They also analyze the scene and create reports on any evidence collected there. Most positions require a bachelor's in criminal justice or a closely related field. Law enforcement agencies most commonly employ evidence technicians for criminal justice jobs.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$39,067

Security Officer

Security officers keep private properties secure. They prevent theft, property damage, and vandalism by patrolling the property, managing entrances to the property, and keeping records on visitors. Security officers must respond to emergencies by restraining unauthorized visitors and contacting emergency personnel. In addition to protecting against theft, security officers protect against safety violations and fires. The position requires variable hours, and some employers prefer candidates with a background in criminal justice.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$38,925

Victim Advocate

Victim advocates help victims navigate a time of crisis or recover from experiencing crimes. For example, they may help victims of domestic violence create exit plans and obtain services. Victim advocates also work with law enforcement officers to support victims during and after a trial. Some of these professionals offer counseling or run support groups. The role typically requires at least a bachelor's degree.

Median PayScale Salary (2020)
$35,413

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