As a teenager, I can remember my mother coming home from college at night weighted down with heavy legal textbooks that contained thousands of pages. Many times throughout the day, she would describe gruesome stories she had read in these books as she studied to get a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. So when I heard someone mention criminology, I became confused. I seriously thought they were the same thing. What’s the difference between criminology and criminal justice?
In a nutshell, criminology involves the study of why a person committed a particular crime and what factors may have played a key role in causing their deviant behavior. Criminal justice deals with all the details of a crime and the systems that oversee the process from the time the crime is committed right up to the court proceedings where the criminal is found guilty and sent to prison.
Criminology vs. Criminal Justice – What do Criminologists Do?
The word criminology contains the suffix “ology,” which refers to the study of something. Just as psychology is the study of the human psyche or mind, criminology is the study of why a person committed a crime. Criminologists seek to discover all the details that would explain what made a criminal do what he or she did and what could possibly be done to prevent the crime from happening again in the future.
Criminologists share a common goal with the criminal justice system. They want to make sure that laws are fair and understandable, that citizens are protected, and they want to help criminals re-enter society in a productive and appropriate manner.
What Types of Jobs Can You Get With a Degree in Criminology?
Criminology jobs center around the study of criminal psychology, intervention and rehabilitation strategies, and investigations and analysis of a crime. The list below describes some careers students choose after earning a degree in Criminology.
- Forensic Psychologists – execute various screenings and examinations such as competency evaluations and threat assessments, and counsel victims of a crime.
- Police Identification and Records Officers (Crime Scene Evidence Technician) – collect and catalog evidence found at crime scenes and on the victim.
- Criminologists and Sociologists – study crime and its effects on society and how social behaviors may cause criminal activity.
- Immigrations and Customs Inspectors – generally work for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in areas with airports that offer international travel.
- Fire Inspectors and Investigators – Inspectors inspect residences and commercial buildings to ensure they are free from fire hazards. Investigators scrutinize the remains of a fire to determine its cause and identify how it might have been prevented.
- Fish and Game Wardens – enforce the laws associated with hunting and fishing and oversee daily operations of county lands and state parks.
What Education Requirements Are Needed to Go Into the Field of Criminology?
The education requirements to obtain a degree in criminology have some similarities to those studying criminal justice. However, there are also deviations.
For the most part, a person looking to go into the field of criminology would obtain a master’s degree. When studying the federal, state, and local laws and law enforcement, criminology courses overlap those needed to get a degree in criminal justice. However, from there, they go in different directions.
Some courses you can expect to see when working toward a degree in criminology are:
- Theories of Social Order
- Culture and Crime
- Economics of Crime and Social Problems
- Juvenile Delinquency
- Police and Society
- White Collar Crime
- Crime Analysis
When studying for a career in criminal justice, you will take courses such as:
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
- Theories of Criminal Behavior
- Probation and Parole
- Police and the Community
- Child Abuse and Neglect
- Violence and Murder in the Family
- Ethics in Criminal Justice
What Types of Careers Are Considered Part of the Criminal Justice System?
In the United States, we have two kinds of criminal justice systems: the State Criminal Justice System, which enforces the law within the state, and the Federal Criminal Justice System, which implements the law when crimes are committed in more than one state or on federal property such as the United States Postal Service.
Some examples of careers that are part of the criminal justice system are:
- Police Officer – enforces local, state, and federal laws and protects citizens in the community.
- Correctional Officer – supervises people in jail cells, prisons, and holding cells and monitors activities of inmates to ensure order and safety.
- Private Investigator – assists law enforcement with local, state, and federal cases and locates missing persons.
- Crime Prevention Specialist – works with communities to develop strategies and find ways to prevent crime.
- Youth Correctional Counselor – works intimately with juvenile offenders residing in correctional institutions to help them adjust to society and become productive citizens.
- Homicide Detective – identifies murder suspects by studying evidence and clues left at a crime scene.
What Are the Education Requirements to Work in the Criminal Justice System?
Education requirements for a career in criminal justice will vary depending upon which career path you choose to enter. Some jobs, such as a corrections officer, a loss prevention specialist, or a police dispatcher, may only require a high school diploma, depending upon where you live.
But for the most part, to be successful in a career in criminal justice, you will need to obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Education requirements will also depend upon whether you are looking for work at the state or federal level.
Some examples of criminal justice jobs you can obtain with just an associate’s degree are:
- Jail Screener – processes and changes an inmate’s sentence by examining their behavior.
- Narcotics Officer – works toward preventing the illegal sale and distribution of drugs.
- State Trooper – executes driving and safety laws on state and local roads.
- Deputy Sheriff – works under the sheriff to help enforce state, federal, and local laws.
Jobs that will require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree are:
- Crime Scene Investigator – analyzes every detail of a crime scene by finding and collecting evidence such as DNA and fingerprints.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent – works to secure and defend the United States against terrorism, organized crime, espionage, and the use of weapons of mass destruction.
- Customs inspector – works hand in hand with Homeland Security to guarantee no person or item that crosses the border poses a threat to the United States.
- Fingerprint Technician – a vital member of the investigation team who narrows down a suspect based on evidence obtained through the examination of fingerprints.
Who Makes More Money? A Criminologist or a Person Working in the Field of Criminal Justice?
Though you’re not likely to become a millionaire with a criminology degree, the highest paying criminology career in 2021 was a forensic psychologist, who, upon entering the workforce, could start earning an annual salary of $75,000. However, if they obtain a master’s degree, their average jumps to between $125,000 and $130,000 per year.
The remaining nine highest paying jobs in criminology are Police Identifications and Records Officers, $85,000; Criminologists and Sociologists, $83,400; Immigrations and Customs Inspectors, $73,100; Forensic Accountants and Financial Examiners, $71,500; College Professor, $70,400; Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators, $63,900; Fire Inspectors and Investigators, $60,900; Forensic Science Technicians, $59,100; and Fish and Game Wardens, $57,700.
In Criminal Justice, the pay varies depending on which career path you choose within the system. As of January 2022, the average wage for a Judge and Hearing Officer is $117,190, and for an Attorney, it’s $120,910.
An FBI Specialist can make around $100,000 a year, and a Private Investigator, $89,200. The average wage for a Police Officer is $63,380, and for a Corrections Manager, it’s $60,500.
One of the things I’ve always wondered is how true-to-life are shows like CSI Miami and CSI New York? So, let’s check that out.
Salary Figures: CollegeValuesOnline.com
Are shows like CSI Miami based on reality?
Yes, some of the crime scene analyses in shows like CSI Miami are true-to-life. But most law enforcement officials say that there is more fiction in these shows than fact. And really, there needs to be a lot of embellishments. If the cases portrayed on TV were as long and drawn-out as they are in real life, no one would watch the show.
Here are some of the fallacies that take place on shows like CSI.
- On TV, crime scene investigators seem to be in charge of the investigation. But in real life, the detectives are in charge.
- On TV, crime scene investigators conduct interviews. But in reality, they don’t have any contact with the suspects unless it’s to take pictures, and even this has to be supervised by a police detective to ensure proper protocol is followed.
- On TV, the crime scene technician’s role includes solving the crime and apprehending the criminal. They may even question suspects or become involved in a chase. But in reality, they do none of these things.
Contrary to the TV show, the crime scene technician in the “real world” will gather physical evidence from the crime scene, test it, analyze the results and hand them over along with their conclusions to the law enforcement in charge of the case.
And one last thing: none of this happens in an hour!
With all of the above information, you should now have a greater understanding of the difference between criminal justice and criminology. You may even be considering entering one of these fields of study. If that’s the case, I hope this post helps you make a more informed decision.
- Criminal Psychology vs. Criminology
- Types of Jobs You Can Get With a Criminal Justice Degree
- Types of Victimology
- Theories of Victimology
- What is Criminology All About?
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.