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Criminal Justice and Related Studies is a degree category that consists of the following common degrees:
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Degree programs in criminal justice teach students about the agencies and processes that governments have created to control crime and punish those who violate laws.
At the heart of this training are the five components that make up the criminal justice system:
Law enforcement officers – usually the police – arrest offenders, complete reports on the crimes that happen in their jurisdictions, investigate crimes, and gather and protect evidence. They may be required to give testimony in court or conduct follow-up investigations.
‘Prosecution’ refers to the legal proceedings in which a person accused of a criminal offense is tried in a court by the government appointed public prosecutor or district attorney. The prosecutor in a case is the legal representative of the government, whose job it is to review evidence received from law enforcement to determine whether sufficient evidence exists to file charges; and if there is, to present that evidence in court, question witnesses, and possibly negotiate plea bargains with defendants.
These are the attorneys who defend the accused against the case brought by the government. They are either hired by the defendant or, for defendants who cannot afford an attorney, they are assigned by the court.
Court is presided over by a judge. The judge’s primary responsibilities are to ensure that the law is followed and to oversee everything that happens in the courtroom.
This component of the criminal justice system is concerned with supervising convicted offenders when they are in prison or in the community on parole or probation, and with overseeing release processes for inmates.
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The objective of forensic science is to solve crimes by applying science and scientific methods to the justice system. Degree programs in the field, therefore, train students to use cutting-edge techniques to examine and interpret evidence in criminal and civil cases.
Because forensic science draws upon the sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, these subject areas make up an important part of the forensics curriculum. Depending on the focus of their chosen program, students may learn to apply knowledge gained in the physical sciences to crime scene investigation. Elements of an investigation may include:
- Ballistics and Firearms – focus is on ammunition, the firing weapon, and the shot trajectory
- Arson and Explosives – focus is on explosives and accelerants; flashpoints and burn patterns
- Fingerprints – focus on analyzing fingerprints left at a crime scene
- Trace Evidence – focus is on fragments of physical evidence, such as a strand of hair, skin cells under a victim’s nails, or a fiber from a sweater
- Accident Reconstruction – focus is on figuring out what exactly happened in an accident by recreating the precise conditions under which it happened, using vehicle positioning, skid marks, etc.
- Bloodstain Pattern Analysis – focus is on examining the pattern of bloodstains to determine where the victim was, how the perpetrator attacked them, and the kind of weapon that was used
While crime scene investigation is probably the most widely known of the forensic sciences, the field is a wide one with several specializations. Some of the key specialization are:
- Computer / Digital Forensics – searches for legal evidence on digital devices such as computers, cell phone, and digital media players; evidence can be found in the form of e-mails, text messages, and visited websites/search history
- Forensic Toxicology – uses drug testing, search for poisonous materials, and sample analysis
- Forensic Odontology – deals with using dental knowledge to gain information relevant to an investigation
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A degree in law enforcement prepares students to complete specific on-the-job training programs that are typically required for positions in fields such as policing, detective work, corrections, and probation.
The curriculum of degree programs commonly includes courses in:
- Criminal Justice
- Criminal Law
- Criminal Investigations
- Cyber Crime Investigations
- Evidence and Court Procedure
- Policing / Law Enforcement Operations
- Police Administration
- Police and Community Relations
- Ethical Issues in Law Enforcement
- Juvenile Justice
- Law History
- Media Relations
- English Composition