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Highest Paying Criminal Justice Careers

Most people associate careers in criminal justice with the jobs of police officers and corrections officers, which are often considered grossly underpaid positions. There are criminal justice jobs that are quite lucrative, though. If you’re thinking about pursuing one of the many available criminology jobs, you should consider the following high-paying occupations.

Lawyers and Attorneys

Salary Potential: $208,000

When one thinks of high-paying jobs in criminal justice, the occupation of lawyer or attorney may immediately come to mind. These criminal justice careers are widely known for being lucrative white-collar professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers and attorneys in the United States earned a mean annual wage of $120,910 in 2018. The top ten percent of earners in this field made just over $200,000 a year, however. Clearly, salaries for lawyers and attorneys vary significantly depending on the lawyer’s experience, area of practice, and geographical location.

Though generally well-paid, lawyers and attorneys must invest a great deal of time and money into their formal training. Specifically, they are required to complete a four-year pre-law program at a nationally or regionally accredited college or university as well as a three-year advanced Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree program at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA).

Michigan State University offers one of the best pre-law majors in the United States. Online Juris Doctor (JD) degrees are becoming increasingly popular. Florida State’s online JD features specializations in Business and Tax Law; International Law; and Environmental Energy and Land Use Law.

Lawyers and attorneys are also tasked with difficult jobs and shoulder a heavy responsibility for their clients. These legal professionals must represent clients in a courtroom, arguing their cases and advocating for their best interests. Depending on the case, the client’s money, freedom, or even life may be on the line.

Judges and Magistrates

Salary Potential: $193,330

Surprisingly, the earning potential for judges and magistrates is slightly less than that of the lawyers and attorneys they preside over in the courtroom. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top-earning judges and magistrates made just under $200,000 in 2018. They did make slightly more on average than lawyers and attorneys though, with a mean annual wage of $133,920.

Most judges and magistrates are former lawyers, so they must undergo the same training and academic preparation, including a law degree from an ABA-accredited program. Unlike beginning lawyers, though, judges must have many years of experience practicing law in the courtroom before they can wield the gavel. They must also bear the burden of handing down sentences to defendants in the courtroom. This can be particularly taxing in criminal cases, where a defendant may go to jail or even be executed for their crimes. In addition to sentencing, judges are also responsible for maintaining order in the courtroom and holding lawyers and attorneys accountable for following standard courtroom procedures.

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Professors

Salary Potential: $175,110

The wages of criminal justice/law enforcement professors will depend in large part upon the college or university that hires them as well as the amount of experience they have in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these instructors made a mean annual wage of $61,900 in 2018, but there is the potential to earn much more.

Not surprisingly, positions in academia require a great deal of education, however. Most colleges and universities prefer candidates with a doctorate degree in criminal justice or a closely related field. Some junior colleges and community colleges routinely hire applicants with just a master’s credential, though.

The PhD in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati boasts a 95% placement rate for graduates looking for teaching positions. Prospective students who desire a more convenient online doctorate in criminal justice may wish to consider Northcentral University.

The duties of a criminal justice/law enforcement professor are conducted mostly within a classroom environment where they teach students the principles of criminology. These instructors will also assess students’ progress and advise them as to how best to proceed in their respective career paths.

Criminology professors may also be asked to conduct research in their specific fields and report on their findings. Often, they will contribute to the literature in the field of criminal justice and criminology by publishing scholarly articles and submitting them to academic journals.

Financial Examiners

Salary Potential: $154,590

An often overlooked career path in the criminal justice field is that of the financial examiner. These criminal justice jobs require professionals to investigate financial records in order to identify white-collar crime and types of fraud such as embezzlement and money laundering.

Financial examiners are typically well-compensated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these criminal justice careers were associated with a mean annual wage of $80,180 in 2018, though the top percentage of earners made over $150,000 that year.

In criminal cases involving money, financial examiners are often called in to inspect financial documents and look for evidence of fraudulent activity. These financial specialists are often asked to write detailed reports of their findings and may even be called upon to testify in court proceedings.

To become a financial examiner, one must earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting, economics, mathematics, or a related field. Senior financial examiners are often required to hold a master’s credential, however. In addition to this formal education, financial examiners will also receive on-the-job training in order to perform their duties proficiently.

Southern New Hampshire University is home to a fully online bachelor’s degree in Accounting with a special concentration in Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination. Students enrolled in this program will study topics such as the legal aspects of fraud, examining financial statements, and investigating with computers. Individuals looking for an excellent on-campus option may consider Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s BS option in forensic accounting.

Criminologists

Salary Potential: $140,430

Professional criminologists have the potential to earn over $140,000 per year, though the mean annual wage for these special types of sociologists was $82,050 in 2018, according to the BLS.

In order to practice criminology, students must earn a minimum of a master’s degree in the field. Most professional criminologists hold a doctoral degree, however.

Arizona State University is home to one of the leading PhD programs in criminology in the United States. To fulfill degree requirements, students will complete 72 credit hours of coursework as well as a comprehensive exam and dissertation.
Another solid option is the PhD in Criminology, Law and Society from The University of California-Irvine. This program is highly versatile, featuring six different areas of emphasis such as Critical Theory, Race and Justice, and Asian American Studies, for example.

 

Criminologists are types of sociologists that specialize in crime as a social issue. Like forensic psychologists, they work alongside other law enforcement professionals in order to better understand a crime. The precise duties of a criminologist will vary depending on their employers as well as the specific case they’re working on. They may study the details of a case to form conclusions, or they may interview suspects and witnesses to gather information pertinent to a crime.

Forensic Psychologists

Salary Potential: $129,250

The earning potential for forensic psychologists in the United States comes in at well over six figures, though the mean annual wage was just under $80,000 in 2018.

All psychologists must undergo extensive training and academic preparation in order to practice their craft. In most cases, this includes either a PhD in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D) degree. They must also complete a certain number of supervised hours of practice before they can work independently in their field.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers a Psy.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology at its Irvine, California campus. This full-time program can be completed within four years. Alternatively, William James College offers a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology with a Forensic Psychology concentration.

The duties of a forensic psychologist will vary, but generally speaking, these criminal justice professionals work alongside lawyers and investigators in order to analyze the psychology of a case. This can include interviewing witnesses and suspects and making judgments regarding a person’s state of mind while committing a crime. The opinion of a forensic psychologist often weighs heavily in the conviction and sentencing of a perpetrator. Therefore, these types of psychologists must take their professional responsibilities quite seriously.

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

Salary Potential: $124,480

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators who worked in legal services in 2018 made a median annual wage of $70,340. Top earners in the field have the potential to make considerably more, though.
Most practicing arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators hold a bachelor’s degree, but some employers prefer candidates to have an advanced degree such as a master’s credential, for example. Some practitioners are retired lawyers or judges.

Mediators, arbitrators, and conciliators who practice within the criminal justice system work with opposing parties to resolve disputes and other criminal matters outside of the courtroom. They use their advanced communication and negotiation skills to help parties come to agreements about crime and punishment. Often, these criminal justice professionals work closely with lawyers and attorneys to ensure both parties’ rights and interests are taken into account.

For students interested in pursuing a career in mediation, George Mason University offers a unique BA in Conflict Analysis and Resolution. The program features six distinct specializations, including Interpersonal Dynamics, Justice and Reconciliation, and Global Engagement. For students with goals of earning an advanced degree, Abilene Christian University offers a Master of Arts in Conflict Management & Resolution.

Police and Detectives

Salary Potential: $106,090

The salary for police and detectives can vary widely depending on official rank and job experience. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the lowest percentage of earners in this field made less than $36,550 in 2018 while the top percentage made well over $100,000.

Requirements for entry into the field also vary. While some lower ranks require just a high school diploma, higher positions may require some college coursework or even an advanced degree. In addition to these various academic requirements, all police officers and detectives must be in good physical shape and pass a comprehensive drug screening and background check.

Police and detectives will take on different roles within the criminal justice and law enforcement fields. Each of these various positions will require them to perform distinct duties, including responding to emergency calls, patrolling local areas, conducting routine traffic stops, writing detailed police reports, performing interviews and investigations, and more.

For those students who want a competitive edge as they enter the police force, Spartanburg Methodist College offers a fully online associate’s degree in criminal justice. Students can enroll on a part-time or full-time basis and earn their degrees within 1-2 years. Liberty University offers a similar program featuring course titles like Criminology, Criminal Justice Research and Writing, and Judicial Process, for instance.

Forensic Science Technicians

Salary Potential: $97,200

According to the BLS, forensic science technicians currently earn about $58,000 per year on average, but some make much more than this. In order to practice forensic science, individuals need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or natural science such as biology or chemistry. A master’s credential is required for some positions.

The duties of a forensic science technician are two-fold as they must collect evidence at a crime scene and then process the evidence back at the laboratory. Their duties in the field may include gathering and organizing evidence, recording observations, making sketches of a crime scene, and taking photographs. In the lab, they may have to analyze evidence using chemical processes, perform DNA tests, and collaborate with other forensic technicians to arrive at conclusions regarding evidence, for example.

Texas A&M University offers one of the nation’s leading bachelor’s degree programs in forensic science from its College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and the Department of Entomology. The program features both a Pre-Law and Science emphasis. Alternatively, prospective students can choose to specialize in Chemistry or Biology when they opt for Penn State University’s BS in Forensic Science.

Fire Inspectors and Investigators

Salary Potential: $95,330

As a top earner in the fire inspection and investigation field, one could earn nearly six figures per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On average, though, individuals performing these criminal justice jobs made just over $60,000 annually.

Though no formal education beyond a high school diploma is required in order to become a fire inspector or investigator, typically, candidates must have prior experience working as a professional firefighter. They’ll also undergo extensive on-the-job training before they’re able to perform their duties independently.

Fire inspectors and investigators are called upon whenever there is a fire or the potential for one. They may perform various duties such as identifying fire hazards, testing fire alarms and sprinkler systems, determining the cause and origin of a fire, and investigating arson suspicions.

For students looking for a formal credential in fire science, Southern Arkansas University Tech offers an associate’s in fire science management program that can be completed entirely online. The school’s articulation agreement with Southern Arkansas University enables graduates to smoothly transition to a bachelor’s program in fire science if they wish. Another online option can be found at Albany Technical College where students can complete an associate’s degree in fire science technology.

Probation Officers and Correction Treatment Specialists

Salary Potential: $94,770

The BLS reports that the top-earning probation officers and correction treatment specialists made over $90,000 in 2018. The median annual wage was much lower for individuals holding these criminal justice jobs, though.

Usually, job candidates in the field of corrections must attend college and earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or behavioral sciences in order to become probation officers or correction treatment specialists. In addition, they may need to complete a state or national training program and pass a test in order to become certified to practice in the field.

The primary role of a probation officer/correction treatment specialist is to help rehabilitate a criminal offender so that they can re-enter society and function appropriately. In order to do so, these criminal justice professionals must interview these former offenders, create rehabilitation plans, and offer counseling and advice. They must also keep detailed records of their interactions with offenders and report their findings to supervisors. They may also be called upon to draft recommendations to judges or potential employers.

Southern New Hampshire University offers an online BS in Criminal Justice Corrections that’s specifically designed for individuals who wish to pursue a career as a probation officer or correction treatment specialist. The program emphasizes professional communication skills. For individuals who desire to work with youth populations, there’s a Bachelor’s in Corrections & Juvenile Justice Studies from Eastern Kentucky University. This degree program is also offered online.

Private Detectives and Investigators

Salary Potential: $89,200

The salary potential for private detectives and investigators is impressive, especially considering the minimal education requirements necessary for jobs in this field. Top earners made nearly $90,000 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) while the median annual wage was just over $50,000 that year.

While some positions in private investigation require a four-year degree in criminal justice or a related field, most job requirements are less demanding, requiring either an associate’s degree or even just a high school diploma combined with on-the-job training.

The actual role of a private detective or investigator can be much more strenuous, however. These criminal justice professionals work on cases for clients that require advanced investigative skills. Their duties may be required to conduct background checks, locate missing persons, interview witnesses, and more. Because they must directly involve themselves in situations involving criminal activity, their jobs can also be quite dangerous at times.

Students interested in formal academic training in the field of private investigation will find a highly specialized Bachelor of Science in Investigations from Bellevue University. The program can be completed either online or on campus. Salem University is home to a similar program—the BA in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Crime Scene Investigation.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Salary Potential: $82,050

Though the position of a paralegal or legal assistant is often considered an entry-level job in the criminal justice field, there’s still the potential to earn a handsome salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for these professionals was $50,940 in 2018, but the top 10% of earners reportedly made over $80,000 that same year.

Despite their impressive earning potential, paralegals and legal assistants need only a two-year associate’s degree in order to gain employment. Some law firms may prefer that candidates hold a bachelor’s degree, however. In a few cases, legal assistants may be hired with no experience or academic preparation and trained on the job.

Paralegals and legal assistants are tasked with the job of assisting lawyers with their various cases. This may include collecting information, scheduling interviews with witnesses, writing legal briefs, and helping with trial preparation.

There’s no shortage of schools offering academic degrees in paralegal studies. For example, Clayton State University offers several options for prospective students, including a certificate program, an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Paralegal Studies, and a Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies. Alternatively, an online Bachelor of Arts in Paralegal Studies is offered through Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Bailiffs

Salary Potential: $78,290

While bailiffs can’t expect to bring home six figures, they can earn a respectable salary after years of experience in the field. In 2018, professionals working in these criminal justice careers earned a median annual wage of $45,760, but top earners in the field made nearly $80,000 that year.

Though bailiffs don’t necessarily need to earn a college degree, they will need to complete some formal training at an academy. A high school diploma or equivalent is also required for employment.

Bailiffs, sometimes referred to as marshals or court officers, are special types of law enforcement officers tasked with assisting the judge in maintaining order in a courtroom. They will typically escort defendants in and out of the courtroom, remove disorderly spectators, and enforce trial rules throughout the duration of a court case. Auxiliary duties may include guarding sequestered juries, delivering court documents, and providing general courthouse security.

To provide students with comprehensive academic training in preparation for a career as a bailiff, Campbellsville University offers a BS in Criminal Justice Administration that can be completed entirely online. For ambitious students, Missouri Baptist University offers a similar program in an accelerated format.

Correctional Officers and Jailers

Salary Potential: $76,760

Correctional officers and jailers aren’t typically listed among the highest paying criminal justice jobs, but the potential is there to earn a generous salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top-earning correctional officers and jailers made over $76,000 per year in 2018, though the median annual wage was just $44,330 this same year.

Like bailiffs, correctional officers and jailers can forego a college degree and opt for training at an academy instead. They will also need a high school diploma or equivalent, but most of the skills they need in order to perform their daily duties proficiently will be learned on the job.

Correctional officers work within a jail or prison setting, providing security services and supervision of inmates. Their exact responsibilities will vary but may include inspecting cells, breaking up disputes between inmates, collecting contraband, and keeping daily logs of inmate activity, for example.

Students who desire formal academic training for the role of a correctional officer or jailer should consider Jackson College’s Associate in Applied Science in Corrections. The program requires a minimum of 63 credit hours of coursework, including courses such as Crime & Delinquency, Parole & Probation, and Criminal Justice Psychology. Similarly, Lorain County Community College offers both a one-year certificate in police science as well as an AAS in Corrections.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Counselors

Salary Potential: $72,990

The criminal justice system employs many substance abuse and mental health counselors whose job it is to help rehabilitate offenders and transition them back into society. These professionals may work in a variety of different settings, including county jails, state and federal prisons, juvenile detention centers, or halfway houses, for example.

Though criminal justice careers in substance abuse and mental health counseling aren’t typically considered the most lucrative positions in the field, the potential to make a decent salary while positively impacting the lives of others does exist. The median annual wage associated with these criminal justice jobs was just under $45,000 in 2018, but the top earners made over $72,000 that same year. These variations in pay can be accounted for by differences in employers and years of experience in this type of counseling.

The exact duties and responsibilities of a substance abuse and mental health counselor will vary depending on the precise terms of his or her employment. Generally speaking, though, they will provide individual and/or group counseling services to inmates or parolees in an attempt to convert them into law-abiding citizens. This may include employing talk therapy, developing treatment plans, recommending coping mechanisms, and the like. Counselors must also write evaluations of their clients’ progress and make recommendations to judges and potential employers.

A convenient online preparatory program for students who desire a career in counseling is the University of Cincinnati’s online BS in Substance Abuse Counseling. Students can enroll in the program on a part-time or full-time basis. Alternatively, the University of Central Arkansas offers a Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies that can be completed online or on campus.

Frequently- Asked Questions About Criminal Justice Careers

Q: Are jobs in criminal justice in demand?
A: Yes. Many of the high-paying criminal justice careers in this ranking are growing faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This can be attributed in part to the continual demand for security in today’s society as well as the consistent need for trained law enforcement personnel to guard its criminals.

Q: What type of academic degree do I need for jobs in criminal justice?
A: The education requirements for different criminal justice jobs will vary depending on the exact position. For example, in this very ranking, some of the high-paying positions require no college degree while others require an advanced degree such as a master’s credential or even a doctoral degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, criminology, or a related field.

Q: What schools offer criminal justice degrees?
A: There are too many to count, much less list! According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are over 500 institutes of higher learning that offer degrees in criminal justice or closely related fields. With this many colleges and universities to choose from, there’s bound to be one that meets your educational needs.

Q: Can I complete a criminal justice degree online?
A: Yes! Completely online and hybrid options are available for every level of education in the field of criminal justice. These programs allow you to earn credentials for careers in criminology without the restrictions of traditional academic classes.

Q: What professional organizations exist in the field of criminal justice?
A: There are dozens of options available for criminal justice students and graduates looking to join a professional organization or association. Below are some examples:

  • American Correctional Association (ACA)
  • American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS)
  • National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
  • American Jail Association (AJA)
  • American Society of Criminology (ASC)
  • International Association of Crime Analysts (IACA)
  • National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI)

Q: Do criminology jobs include advancement opportunities?
A: Many of them do, yes. Promotions are often given to criminal justice employees who perform exceptionally on the job and/or have several years of experience in the field. Criminology professionals who take certification classes or earn advanced degrees may also be awarded promotions. These advanced roles often come with more responsibilities and higher pay.

Q: What other benefits are there to jobs in criminology?
A: In addition to monetary compensation, jobs in criminal justice are typically associated with other benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings accounts, for example. These benefits will vary based on employers and job titles.

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