How to Choose a Criminal Justice Specialization
3 Questions to Consider
The criminal justice system requires a vast and complex network of individuals and agencies working together in order to function as designed. From police and other members of law enforcement organizations to those working within the court system to caseworkers and corrections officers, there are many ways to enter or advance in the field. For this reason, one of the first steps in how to choose a criminal justice specialization is to think about in what stage of the system you want to work, and what motivates your interest in criminal justice in the first place.
Why Should You Choose a Criminal Justice Specialization?
Criminal justice degree specializations can be important for several reasons. For students who want to pursue a career in a specific segment of the justice system following graduation, a specialization can help lay a strong foundation. By focusing on knowledge and practice directly related to the sector in which they intend to work, students can spend more time and energy developing a very specific set of relevant skills. Those looking to advance in their current career can likewise use a specialization to tailor course work to their particular goals and existing law enforcement experience.
If you're deciding on how to choose a criminal justice specialization that may be right for you, first ask which of the following areas interests you the most.
Do you want to deal directly with the legal and investigation process?
If your career goals involve investigating and/or prosecuting crimes, or working within the court system, you should look into specializations that focus on dealing with crimes once they've already been committed. Those centered on forensic science and investigations may be good for students who want to study criminology (why certain crimes occur), investigate crime scenes, and compile evidence for law enforcement and prosecutors.
Some generalist specializations may also focus on prosecution and the court process, including how to prepare cases for prosecution, evidence presentation and expert testimony, and sentencing.
Do you want to work within the prison and detention system?
For those whose interests lie primarily in working with inmates and juvenile offenders during the incarceration and rehabilitation process, specializations focusing on corrections and case management may be best. Courses in these types of criminal justice specializations tend to focus more on how caseworkers can help inmates and those convicted of a crime, sometimes by connecting them with social services and other means of support during parole and probation periods. These types of specializations can also help students who want to work in correctional facilities prepare, as well as current corrections officers hoping to move into administrative roles within the prison system.
Are you interested in enforcing laws and preventing crimes from occurring?
Certain specializations are more tailored to those who want to study why and how crimes happen as well as systemic and practical prevention methods. A law enforcement specialization focuses on the roles and interactions police have with their communities at various levels of the justice system. Courses may cover how different methods of policing function, law enforcement ethics, and how police organizations are structured and operate at the administrative level.
Additionally, there are homeland security and crisis management specializations that help students prepare for jobs dealing with national security, counter-terrorism, and emergency planning and response. These specializations focus on studying and preventing threats to national security, preparing crisis management and response plans in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, and protecting critical national infrastructures.
Possible Criminal Justice Specializations
Some options for criminal justice specializations include:
Remember also that you have a team of advisors and instructors at your disposal within your program. Don't hesitate to ask them for help or advice when trying to decide whether a particular specialization is right for you and your career goals.
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