11 criminal justice jobs to consider

Last updated: May 20, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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11 criminal justice jobs to consider
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If you're interested in working with people and maintaining the law, a criminal justice job could be right for you.

When you work in the criminal justice field, you are supporting your local community. Whether you're a crime scene investigator, correctional officer, or paralegal, you are helping to keep the public safe.

To work in this industry, you'll need to be confident and empathetic. While offenders need to be punished, you may also help to give people a second chance.

So, what is a criminal justice job? What are the top positions to apply for?

Keep reading because we'll tell you about the top criminal justice roles, including job descriptions and average salaries. We will also help you find and successfully apply for these positions.

What is a criminal justice job?

Criminal justice is a broad field — it covers most roles dealing with criminal activity. For example, you could apply for a job at a police department, a federal government agency, a courthouse, or even the prison system.

Every position is different, but an understanding of criminal justice is always required for a criminal justice job. You may also need experience and/or a degree in a specific area, such as public safety, criminal investigation, or psychology.

The minimum education requirements will depend on the job. For most roles, you'll need a high school diploma or equivalent. Some positions come with job training, while others require a college degree.

For example, someone who wants to work at a police department may need to go through an academy program. On the other hand, a person who wants to work as a forensic science technician needs a bachelor's degree or higher.

For most criminal justice jobs, successful candidates need a valid driver's license. You'll also need to pass a criminal background check. You may be excluded from some roles if you have any felony convictions. Some misdemeanor convictions may be acceptable, but this depends on the job.

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If you want to work at a federal level, you can expect a fingerprint check. Some positions may also require shift work and travel.

What are the top criminal justice careers?

There are criminal justice employment opportunities in a range of areas. For example, you can work in law enforcement, a youth center, or a prison.

Here's a look at some of the top jobs worth considering.

1. Police officer

Looking for a rewarding career? You may want to apply for a job as a police officer.

Common police officer duties include protecting properties and citizens, attending to emergency situations, monitoring traffic, and issuing citations.

To work in this role, you'll need to attend a police training academy and pass a physical examination. If you have a college degree, that'll be an advantage. You'll need a valid driver's license, and you'll have to pass an extensive background check.

Police officers need excellent communication skills, empathy, and knowledge of the law. Physical fitness, leadership skills, and teamwork are also essential.

How much does a police officer make?

The average annual wage for a full-time police officer in the United States is $66,020. This equals $31.74 per hour. However, pay varies by location.

2. Paralegal

Paralegals help lawyers. They conduct research, compile information, and prepare reports.

Paralegals also type letters and affidavits and support lawyers during criminal trials. These legal assistants talk to clients and witnesses and take notes.

Most paralegals have an associate degree or higher. A criminal justice degree can also help you get the job.

If you want to be a paralegal, you'll need excellent communication and computer skills. You should also be organized, with good time management and research skills.

How much does a paralegal make?

The average salary for a paralegal is $27.03 per hour. The average annual salary is $56,230. Some paralegals become lawyers, which have an average hourly pay of $61.54 per hour.

3. Correctional officer

Correctional officers supervise inmates. They make sure the prisoners are following the rules and that their basic needs are met.

These team members search rooms and inmates for banned items, and they also monitor the prison for safety or maintenance issues. Sometimes, correctional officers escort inmates to different locations.

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Correctional officers also keep written records of any incidents that occur. Because prisons operate 24/7, evening, weekend, and holiday shifts may be required for this position.

The minimum hiring requirement for those without experience is usually that you are 21 years of age or older, have a high school diploma or GED, no criminal record, and the ability to own a firearm. If you want to work in a federal prison, you may need a bachelor's degree.

Correctional officers need excellent communication skills, confidence, physical fitness, and patience.

How much does a correctional officer make?

The average salary for a correctional officer in the US is $47,920 per year or $23.04 per hour.

4. Crime scene investigator

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) gather evidence at crime scenes. Evidence may include fingerprints, DNA, and weapons.

Crime scene investigators try to find causes of death in a range of different cases. For example, they may investigate accidents and homicides.

These criminal investigators look at crime scene evidence and talk to victims, their friends and family members, suspects, forensic psychologists, doctors, and other law professionals.

CSIs work closely with their team as well as other government agencies. They keep thorough written notes.

This role can involve long hours and overtime.

A background in forensic science or criminal justice is recommended. Depending on the job, you may need a bachelor's degree with additional training. Analytical skills, problem-solving skills, and communication skills are essential.

How much does a CSI make?

The average salary for a CSI in the US is $51,080 per year or $22.00 per hour.

5. Private investigator

Private investigators help ‌solve crimes but they work for a client, not the law. They cannot obtain warrants or make arrests but they can conduct surveillance and collect evidence.

These professionals use a range of tools to do their job. For example, they can access court records and other documents. They can conduct interviews and look through online activity.

Most private investigators get experience on the job. Some have associate degrees or bachelor's degrees in the criminal justice field. Depending on where you live, a license may be required.

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Private investigators need analytical skills, communication skills, and attention to detail. They need patience and excellent critical thinking skills in order to ask the right questions.

How much does a private investigator make?

The average annual wage for a private investigator is $59,380 per year or $28.55 per hour.

6. Criminal profiler

Criminal profilers work with teams to solve cases. They usually have a background in psychology and a deep understanding of criminal behavior.

These criminal justice professionals visit crime scenes and track behavior to create profiles of suspects. They talk to witnesses and suspects and use their knowledge to discover motives.

Criminal profilers can help investigators narrow down their list of suspects.

Criminal profilers keep accurate records and share their findings with their investigative team. Sometimes, they appear as experts in court.

Educational requirements usually include a bachelor's or master's degree. Qualified applicants should have excellent interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, and analytical skills.

How much does a criminal profiler make?

The average salary for a criminal profiler is $50,696 per year.

7. State trooper

State troopers make sure motorists are following the law. They issue tickets, drug test drivers, and make arrests, but only on roadways.

If there’s an accident, these law enforcement officers direct traffic and help those involved. If they’re the first on the scene, they’ll call an ambulance and give first aid.

Sometimes, state troopers testify in court. For example, if someone was speeding and driving erratically, they may share details of what they witnessed. State troopers can help investigators collect evidence, including photographs from motor crime scenes.

The minimum requirements for state troopers can vary, but a bachelor’s degree will be beneficial. You’ll usually need to pass a fitness test and attend a state trooper training academy.

State troopers need excellent communication skills, driving skills, and conflict management skills.

How much does a state trooper make?

The average salary for a state trooper is $32.04 per hour. The annual salary is $64,610.

8. Investigative journalist

Investigative journalists work in print, television, radio, or online. They usually have a specialty and research different topics. For example, they may look into cold cases, financial crimes, or political scandals.

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Investigative journalists can work in a team or individually, and they may answer to an editor. The role involves fact-checking, interviewing people, and trying to find clues in documents.

Investigative journalists are good at networking and finding sources.

If you want to work as an investigative journalist, you'll probably need a college degree. You should have excellent communication, research, and analytical skills. Plus, you'll need to be confident using a computer and have fluent reading and writing skills.

How much does an investigative journalist make?

The average salary for an investigative journalist in the US is $48,370 per year or $23.26 per hour.

9. Probation officer

Probation officers meet with those on probation or parole to make sure they're staying on track. They help them get back into the workforce and find a place to live.

Probation officers drug test their clients and support them in entering rehabilitation. Sometimes, they testify in court and give evidence in investigations.

Probation officers keep accurate records.

Depending on where you live, a college degree may be required for this position. You'll also need to complete a training program. Any experience in law enforcement will also be an advantage.

The ideal candidate for this job type will have excellent communication skills, computer skills, and patience.

How much does a probation officer make?

If you get this job, you'll get a competitive wage. The average salary for a probation officer is $60,250 per year or $28.97 per hour.

10. Customs inspector

Customs inspectors protect national borders. They often work at airports, cargo docks, and other entry points to the US.

The role can vary depending on the setting. For example, a customs inspector may work at the airport and check passengers. They’ll look at identification, reasons for travel, and make sure there’s no banned items in their luggage.

If a person has a red flag, such as a warrant for arrest, the customs inspector will hold them until authorities arrive.

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Some customs inspectors look at incoming and outgoing packages, and check them for illegal or dangerous goods. The list includes drugs, weapons, counterfeit merchandise, and animals.

To become a customs inspector, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. You’ll have to pass a fitness test and attend a training program. Customs inspectors need to be confident, with excellent communication skills and knowledge of the law.

How much does a customs inspector make?

The average annual salary for a customs inspector in the US is $60,000, or $21.50 per hour.

11. Youth correctional counselor

Youth correctional counselors support young offenders. They offer counseling and services such as rehabilitation, supervision, and anger management programs.

They can help young people through court by making sure they understand their obligations. Youth correctional counselors can also support their clients by talking to schools or employers on their behalf.

These counselors can work for the government or at youth detention centers. If a client is on probation, a youth correctional counselor may keep in touch with that individual's probation officer.

Youth correctional counselors keep written records and may also be involved with community programs.

The most common pathway to this career is through a college degree in criminal justice or social work. Alternatively, enough work experience could be enough to land this role.

How much does a youth correctional counselor make?

The average salary for a correctional counselor in the US is $60,250 per year or $28.97 per hour.

There are different pathways into the criminal justice field. For example, you can complete a college degree or attend a police academy.

What are the top jobs to consider? If you're thinking of a career in law enforcement, you can start as a police officer. Or you can look at becoming a crime scene investigator, criminal profiler, or customs inspector.

Then there are jobs for paralegals, private investigators, correctional officers, and probation officers. For those who are interested in psychology and well-being, you may prefer a job as a youth correctional counselor.

Finally, there's investigative journalism, where you will research crimes and compile articles.

If it's time for a career change, head to our job board to see what positions are available near you. You can also check out our resource center for job seeker tips.

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