The entertainment and news industries wield a great deal of influence on the viewing public, and at times these influences can be misleading.  This is often the case with the fields of criminal justice and criminology; many shows depict the actions, activities and behaviors of federal, state or local law enforcement as falling under the umbrella of criminology and criminal justice. These two terms are thrown into casual conversation, leading many people to mistakenly believe they are interchangeable and describing the same field. This misconception could not be further from the truth and can lead to confusion for individuals looking to pursue a career in one of these fields. True, both subjects deal with the criminal element and do overlap in areas, but they are not synonymous. Thoroughly understanding the difference between criminal justice and criminology requires exploring each of the distinct characteristics that form the foundations of entirely separate career paths.

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is the system used for all stages of criminal proceedings: law enforcement involving police, lawyers, courts and corrections. It is the interdisciplinary study of police, correctional institutions, criminal courts, juvenile justice agencies, and the agents who work within these institutions.  A BA in Criminal Justice provides a strong foundation in this field by offering coursework in law enforcement systems, crime analysis, homeland security, the legal system, research methods and criminal behavior. 

With a BA in Criminal Justice, there is a wide variety of careers to pursue.  Some of these include:

  • Law Enforcement: Police Officer; County/Deputy Sheriff; Detective; Canine Officer/K9 Handler; Park Ranger; Game Warden/Conservation Officer; State Trooper/Highway Patrol Officer
  • Federal Law Enforcement: Federal Air Marshall; Immigration Officer; CIA Agent; ATF Special Agent; U.S. Capitol Police; U.S. Postal Service Inspector; Deputy U.S. Marshal; FBI Special Agent
  • Correctional Careers: Parole Officer; Juvenile Probation Officer; Correctional Counselor; Correctional Officer; Victim Witness Assistant
  • Legal/Court: Defense Attorney; Prosecutor; Court Clerk; Paralegal, Legal Researcher or Legal Assistant; Bailiff; Judge

A BA in Criminal Justice can also lead to careers in forensic science and CSI as well as private security and contractor careers. 

Criminology

This highly interdisciplinary field leans most heavily on sociology, but also includes biology, anthropology, psychology, law and various other fields.  Because crime is a complex and multi-layered issue, there are countless avenues of study and investigation surrounding it.  It explores criminal behavior, society’s response to crime, the examination of evidence, psychological and hereditary causes of crime, different modes of investigation and conviction.  Criminology also includes the study of the efficiency of different methods of rehabilitation, punishment and corrections. A criminology degree would most likely include coursework in criminal behavior (theories and patterns), abnormal behavior, correctional systems, intervention strategies, the juvenile justice system, substance abuse and criminal investigation.

A criminology degree can lead to many exciting career opportunities, some of which could include:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Forensics
  • Psychology
  • Intervention Programming
  • Medical Investigation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Private Investigation

Criminal Justice and Criminology are two fields which offer a great variety of job options, both early in one’s career and as for long-term professional growth.  By fully understanding the differences and similarities between these two terms, individuals will better be able to select the educational path that best matches their skills, interests and career goals.

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