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7 Alternative Careers in Criminal Justice

Updated on July 16, 2011
Pistol and handcuffs.
Pistol and handcuffs. | Source

Criminal Justice Degree Does Not Have To Lead To Becoming A Police Officer

While it true that most people who graduate with a degree in Criminal Justice become police officers or deputy sheriffs, those are not the only jobs you can get if you major in criminal justice. Here are a few of the alternative to police officer and deputy sheriff.

Parole Officer

Most parole officers have at least a bachelor degree. The most common college major for parole officers is criminal justice. The job of parole officer can be rewarding because it is not the same everyday and you interact with many different people. The primary tasks that you will be doing are meeting with parolees in their home and your office. Writing reports about parolee's compliance with the terms of their parole. Conduct arrests and last minute inspections of parolee homes.

Parole officers work on holidays and weekends, and occasionally pretty late at night, however these officers work hours that are better than traditional patrol officers because they can check on parolees during regular hours with occasional spot inspections late at night. Parole officers earn $70,000- $110,000 per year. In California the median salary for a parole officer is $54,000 per year, however that is base salary, once you add in the overtime and holiday pay, you get into the range described earlier.

Probation Officer

The job of probation officer is similar to the job of Parole Officer, except you monitor people who were not sentenced to prison when you are a probation officer. The job description of a probation officer and of a parole officer look very similar on paper, but in reality there are some big differences. Parole agents deal with people who have been to prison and although there are juvenile parole agents, nearly 85% of all parole agents work with adults only. As a result of these differences, there is a greater chance that you can make a difference in someone's life as a probation officer.

Both probation officers and parole officers combine criminal justice principles with principles of social work. These officers encourage people when they are doing well and discipline them when they fail to comply with the terms they were ordered to comply with. If you enjoy working with people and helping them get their lives on track, becoming a probation officer or parole officer may be the right job for you.

United States Marshal

United States Marshals are the law enforcement arm of the United States Federal Courts. Marshals provide security in Federal courts and transport inmates to and from court. Marshals also apprehend fugitives, including raids in the field. Marshals also collect incoming information about fugitive movements and investigate fugitive locations.

Marshals that are assigned to court duty have reasonable, predictable hours that are conducive to raising a family because they usually do not work on Federal holidays or weekends. Marshals earn between $80,000 and $110,000 per year and have very good benefits. Marshals are sworn peace officers with full powers of arrest, however generally speaking they are not subjected to hazards of traditional police officers. That is not to say that there are no risks, sometimes it is the marshals that apprehend the nation's most dangerous criminals.


Secret Service Special Agent

Protection Detail

Secret Service Agents have the unusual situation of having two completely different assignments available to them. The Secret service is responsible for protecting the President of the United States, the Vice President, and people who have been elected President and Vice President before they have been sworn into office, as well as others. In fact, the Secret Service also protects the immediate families of presidents and vice presidents, children under the age of 16 of former presidents, and visiting heads of states from other countries.

Counterfeit Investigation

The United States Secret Services also has the duty of investigating counterfeit currency. In this capacity, agents investigate counterfeit currency manufacturing operations, people who pass counterfeit currency and people who traffic counterfeit currency. They also write arrest and search warrants, conduct surveillance and arrest people for violations of counterfeit law.

A degree in criminal justice is not required, however it can serve as a leg up on the competition. All Special Agents must be able to be cleared for Top Security. Top Security clearance includes an exhaustive back ground check, many people will be ineligible for Top Security Clearance. If you are hired as a Special Agent for the Secret Service, you should expect to earn a starting base salary of $55,000 per year. However, with overtime, many agents earn closer to $100,000.

Victim Advocate

Victim advocates often work for probation departments, district attorneys, and courts. They can specialize in areas like domestic violence or children. The tasks of victim advocates are varied, depending on the specific job. Some victim advocates spend most of their time in court, offering to console or support victims while testifying.

California law provides that minor witnesses and victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse, can have a family member or victim advocate at their side when they testify or address the court during sentencing. Other victim advocates meet help victims find resources and get assistance in dealing with victimization, such as therapy, medical assistance, or vocational rehabilitation.

Police Takedown
Police Takedown | Source

Criminal Justice Degree

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Arson Investigator

Another interesting field you can go into with a degree in criminal justice is arson investigator. Arson investigators combine two fields of public service, law enforcement and fire science. Fire investigators have challenging jobs, yet rewarding jobs. They investigate crimes related to arson. The thing that sets arson investigators apart from regular law enforcement is the combination of law enforcement and science, if you enjoy science and you are interested in criminal justice, you may want to consider arson investigation.

Arson investigation requires additional education, most arson investigators have a degree in fire science and a degree in criminal justice or criminology. The field of arson investigation is highly competitive because it pays very well. Arson investigators earn approximately $90,000-$150,000 per year. Almost everyone in criminal justice has to testify in court, arson investigators have to testify more often and generally for longer periods.

Private Investigator

Private investigators perform investigations for attorneys and private individuals. Most of the tasks that a private investigator performs are similar to traditional police officers. Private investigators interview witnesses, write reports, and make recommendations to their employer regarding further investigation.

The best thing about being a private investigator is that you control your destiny. If you want to earn a lot of money, you can work a lot and earn a considerable amount of money. If you want some balance in your life and do not want to work around the clock, you can earn a decent amount of money as a private investigator with your own company. Another advantage to being a private investigator is the fact that there are various fields of practice for private investigators.

The most common area of practice for private investigators is civil support. These private investigators work for civil law firms to investigate facts that are important to one side of a lawsuit or the other. Personally, I find civil investigations to be kind of boring however this type of investigation is the most profitable and consistent. There are a lot of civil lawsuits going on at any given time, workflow for a private investigator in civil practice is consistent.


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    • ambercita04 profile image


      6 years ago from Winter Park

      I am getting a degree in criminal justice and do not want to be in law enforcement. I was actually thinking of going to law school, but have decided not to. I am actually wanting to get into a law research job such as a paralegal or crime analyst job. After my B.A. in Social and Criminal Justice, I am looking to get my master's in criminology, psychology, or something in the lines of law research.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am getting an associates degree in criminal justice and was wondering if it was worth continuing on with criminal justice or getting a bachelors in a different degree? I do very bad at civil service exams and i don't think i will be able to get a job in criminal justice. Are there any jobs that do not require civil service exams?

    • profile image

      Terae Snedeker 

      6 years ago

      I am about to graduate this year with a criminal justice degree. I am worried because i got caught a long time ago with weed and it ws the last time i smoked and then i started school. I was so changed by the experience because of the officer it made me what to be on the right side of the law and i thought to myself i could do a job in criminal justice. I am worried that my misdeamer of weed which i did pay a fine and had to complete a 10 week drug class with no issues that i may not be able to get a job in this field. What do you think?

    • danfresnourban profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Depends on the conviction. A misdemeanor conviction for a crime that is not a crime of moral turpitude probably not prevent a person from working in criminal justice in California. It would probably be better if the person did a 1203.4 motion. (often called expungment)I hope this helps.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have a question. In California can a person with a criminal background work in Criminal Justice, say in the area of Probation or Parole Officer or as a Victims Advocate? Thanks Daniel for your answer in advance

    • danfresnourban profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you for reading my hub. Congratulations on your decision to change career paths. Being a police officer is not for everyone. That was kind of the motivation for this hub, I wanted to let people who started a criminal justice degree or even those who finished a degree in criminal justice, that there more options for them in the work place than just being a patrol officer.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Good information. I was once a Criminal Justice major but I've recently decided to make a change that suits my natural artistic ability and personality, animation. But one time I was in a Criminology class and a former graduate of the college I went to came to talk to us, he was a U.S. Marshall, which sounds like an exciting career. Some people also use it to go into law. I definitely found my Criminal Justice classes interesting and we had some very stimulating discussions about the law and the principles that should govern it, I just don't think police work is for me. I've never been that authoritarian or militaristic, so I realized that's not really me. Police have a bad rep but they do a lot of hard work keeping everyone safe. And it's a tough balancing act they have to deal with between the rights of the accused vs. the rights of society. They have a job where it's so hard to make everyone happy, and they're quite admirable for trying.

    • danfresnourban profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fresno, CA

      you never know Simone, sometimes it is the most compassionate and empathetic people who make good officers. Thanks for stopping by and commenting

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      I don't think I'd do too well in the criminal justice field, but I sure appreciate those who do! Interesting overview. Thanks for writing it!

    • danfresnourban profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Lol, good point about nailing jell-o. As the parent of a teenager, I couldn't agree more. The hard part is we are training them to be adults, but they usually want to be the boss before they are ready, and that is usually when we as parents struggle.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      @Angelique, a pearl of wisdom I often see on a billboard downtown: "Being the parent of a teenager is like trying to nail Jell-o to a wall". The frustrations for a probation officer are much the same. ;D

    • danfresnourban profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Fresno, CA

      Thank you for your input on this hub, the weird thing is that as a lawyer, I work with these people and it is difficult to separate them. Your comments help me look at the jobs from a different perspective.

    • Angelique Loux profile image

      Angelique Loux 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      I think I would choose probation officer help people get their lives in track. great hub 2 thumbs up. ;)

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Glad you mentioned it's often U.S. Marshals who apprehend the most dangerous criminals...who (naturally) don't want to be apprehended. Which, according to an old friend who became a Marshal, makes that aspect of the job quite dangerous. Also, only those in excellent physical condition should consider this as a career.

      Years ago, I briefly worked for a P.I. agency in Las Vegas. At times it was more fun than anyone should have with their clothes on, other times it was, as you mentioned, just plain b-o-r-i-n-g. (All night stake outs come to mind.) You do, however, meet some verrry interesting people, on both sides of the law. It's also helpful if you're a person who can alter your appearance and personality on a regular basis. ;D


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