TV shows that feature crime fighting have only increased the popularity of criminal justice careers. But ignore the glitz and glamour of the shows. Criminal justice can be a rewarding and stable field if you have great intuitive skills, physical and mental endurance and respect for authority.
“We focus on trying to understand the causes of crime and how society responds to crime,” says Dr. Julie Horney, dean of the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany. “Our students go into a broad range of careers, like police work and corrections, and some go to law school to become lawyers. Many are interested in social services kinds of jobs, perhaps working with high-risk youth, trying to prevent crime.”
Miozoti Castillo, a junior and admissions staffer at John Jay College, a criminal justice school in New York City, says, “It’s rewarding and it’s a great experience. The training to go into this field is very one-on-one.” Read on to see if a career in criminal justice could be right for you.
To become a lawyer, you have to graduate from law school, which is generally completed in three years after your bachelor’s degree. Then, you’ll have to pass the bar exam for the state in which you want to practice.
“The most common major for aspiring lawyers at John Jay is criminal justice,” says Castillo. “They study that for four years here, often get a master’s degree in public administration, and then acquire a J.D. (legal degree) so they can practice in criminal cases, either for a firm or for the government.”
One of the most common misconceptions about criminal justice is related to the disconnect in forensics between on-the-scene detective work and working in a lab. (You can thank “CSI” for that.)
“The people who do the forensics work are laboratory scientists. They need to have a background in biology or chemistry,” Horney says. “In fact, a strong science background is the number-one requirement for this position. When in the lab, they don’t actually interact with the scene of the crime or the people involved; often they have no clue where the blood or the pieces of hair they are testing came from. They’re looking for chemical information, not to figure out the case.”
“There was a lot more interest in being a police officer after September 11th,” says Castillo. “People saw what happened, and they want to serve.”
Becoming a police officer requires at least 60 credits (two years) of college education, completion of the police academy and passing several tests that confirm an officer’s abilities, moral character and physical aptitude. In return, benefits can include salary increases every year when first starting out, healthy retirement plans and a uniform allowance.
Liz Funk is a college junior from New York. Her first book, Supergirls Speak Out, will be published by Simon & Schuster in January, 2009. She edits the teen politics blog GirlHeadQuarters.org ....