Criminal Justice: Career Choices for an Unsafe World
The events of September 11, 2001 forever changed America. Ripples spread across every segment of our society, increasing our concern for safety and law enforcement. Five years later, the entire national criminal justice system has grown to face new challenges from both within and without our borders. The concept of homeland security has become a fundamental principle with law enforcement agencies from local and state levels all the way up to the federal government. More than ever, agencies are seeking graduates with criminal justice degrees to bring fresh talent to their organizations.
Recruiters are interested in candidates from both the law enforcement and criminal justice sides of the professions. If you're considering pursuing an online degree in criminal justice or paralegal studies you'll be poised to benefit from a hiring boom that is anticipated to grow well past the end of the decade. In particular, some of the hottest-growing professions will go to people with certificates, associate's, and bachelor's degrees from online paralegal schools and criminal justice degree programs.
Paralegal Training Sizzles
As law enforcement ramps up to handle increased security, the demand on the criminal justice side of the professions will flourish. Lawyers, already overburdened with caseloads and filings, have turned a huge amount of their daily routine legal practice over to trained paralegals.
Paralegals typically hold a two-year paralegal school degree and work in private or corporate law firms and government agencies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for graduates from paralegal schools will rise "faster than the national average" for all American occupations through the year 2014. Salary.com reports entry-level wages for paralegals in major cities will rise above $40,000 annually.
In addition to the need for paralegals, private and public law offices are going to need qualified graduates with legal assisting and law secretary training. There are online programs throughout the country that offer legal secretary certificates and degrees. Once they have a taste of the profession, many legal secretaries decide to continue their online education toward a degree in paralegal training or law. The flexibility of online training enables them to merge ongoing legal office experience, with the benefits of an advanced degree.
A sampling shows these median wages for paralegals and legal secretaries in eight American cities:
- Los Angeles, paralegals $47,400; legal secretaries $37,400
- New York City, paralegals $49,500; legal secretaries $39,100
- Chicago, paralegals $45,200; legal secretaries $35,700
- Portland, paralegals $43,600; legal secretaries $34,500
- Dallas, paralegals $42,700; legal secretaries $33,800
- Denver, paralegals $43,900; legal secretaries $34,700
- Orlando, paralegals $40,800; legal secretaries $32,200
- Pittsburgh, paralegals $41,700; legal secretaries $33,000
Online Degrees for Defending Our Streets
All over the country, hiring is brisk for police officers. The BLS predicts that the demand will remain great for local and state police officers, but so will the competition for the higher-paid federal positions. The best positions, the BLS says, will attract candidates with formal police training or criminal justice degrees and most of the job opportunities will be with local police departments and state highway patrol agencies.
For police officer positions, local and state agencies often provide their own academies, but prefer to hire graduates of criminal justice degree programs. Online criminal justice degree programs are respected in the professions and fit into a student's busy home and family life. About 80 percent of the 842,000 working police officers who held jobs in 2004 worked for local agencies. State police and highway patrol agencies also look to hire graduates of associate's and bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice.
In addition to holding the required associate's or bachelor's criminal justice degree, police officer candidates may be asked to pass civil service examinations and intensive physical training.
Here are recent median salary ranges for police and highway patrol officers as reported by Salary.com:
- Los Angeles, police $52,300; highway patrol $47,600
- New York City, police $54,700; highway patrol $49,800
- hicago, police $50,000; highway patrol $45,400
- Portland, police $48,200; highway patrol $43,800
- Dallas, police $47,300; highway patrol $43,000
- Denver, police $48,500; highway patrol $44,000
- Orlando, police $45,100 ; highway patrol $41,000
- Pittsburgh, police $46,000; highway patrol $42,000
Super Sleuths with Online Degrees
Private investigators are finding new ways to fit into the post-911 economy. Whether they assist in background investigations, tracing deadbeats with debts, or delving into cyber-crime, detectives work by contract with corporate industry, manufacturing, merchandising, and insurance clients. They also are engaged to help private citizens solve crimes or find missing persons.
Detectives often begin their careers in public or private security companies while they complete online criminal justice degrees to qualify for private investigation work. Upon graduation, they can also find work as store detectives, skip tracers, and background sleuths for attorneys involved in civil litigation. Local, state, and federal agencies are also on the hunt for qualified investigators, and the BLS reports that candidates will need at least a two-year criminal justice degree to remain competitive for these openings.
The BLS also reports "excellent" job opportunities for criminal justice degree holders looking for work as corrections officers. Most correctional officers work in state or federal prison facilities and job candidates need a minimum of a two-year criminal justice degree to enter the profession. For work in federal prisons, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is the minimum requirement.
Correctional officers also find work in community, state, and federal courtrooms, acting as bailiffs and other designated officers.
Here are the Salary.com ranges for private investigators and corrections officers:
- Los Angeles, private detectives $43,000; corrections officers $36,000
- New York City, private detectives $45,200; corrections officers $37,800
- Chicago, private detectives $41,200; corrections officers $34,500
- Portland, private detectives $39,700; corrections officers $33,200
- Dallas, private detectives $39,000; corrections officers $32,600
- Denver, private detectives $40,000; corrections officers $33,400
- Orlando, private detectives $37,200; corrections officers $31,100
- Pittsburgh, private detectives $38,000; corrections officers $31,900.
It's easy to see that there are abundant law enforcement and justice jobs for the taking through the end of the decade -- and beyond. Why not contact schools in your area about their online criminal justice or paralegal training programs?