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Careers in the criminal justice system.

The criminal justice system has three interrelated components: the law enforcement community, the courts, and the corrections community. The system itself was designed to be a "well-oiled" legal machine where law breakers are passed along from arrest to trial, and possibly placed in a penal institution. Each of the three components of the criminal justice system plays a vital role in the day-to-day operations of the system; each component calls for a different degree of specialization from those responsible for administering the criminal justice process. Numerous career opportunities exist in all three arms of the criminal justice system. Traditionally, females and members of protected classes (i.e. African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans) have kept themselves away from jobs in the criminal justice system, but many of those persons who are currently unemployed or underemployed could adequately perform the variety of jobs that make up the criminal justice system.

Law Enforcement

There are five levels of law enforcement careers in the United States. Federal, state, county, municipal, and campus police make up what many criminal justice scholars refer to as the "first arm" of the criminal system. Law enforcement has evolved into a very complex science, and the opportunity to specialize in a job task other than street patrol has significantly increased.

Federal law enforcement agencies offer the greatest opportunities for diversity. The bulk of the law enforcement jobs at the federal level are in the United States Department of Justice. The more recognizable entities of the Justice Department include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, and the U.S. marshalls. Almost 900 federal criminal statutes are the responsibility of the Justice Department. It is not necessary to have a liberal arts background or a degree in criminal justice to seek employment with a federal law enforcement agency. Employees with science and technical backgrounds are also actively sought out to perform support functions at various federal law enforcement agencies. The F.B.I. actively recruits persons with law degrees and accounting majors to fill many of the job vacancies that exist within the agency. Additionally, language specialists (Russian, Chinese, Spanish), as well as engineers and computer scientists are needed to fill job vacancies with federal law enforcement agencies. The Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the U.S. Customs are other federal agencies that exercise law enforcement duties throughout the United States and its territories.

Law enforcement job opportunities at the state and local level are growing rapidly. All 50 states have uniformed police and non-uniformed support personnel that are responsible for carrying out the state's law enforcement functions. Positions with local law enforcement agencies are available throughout the country.

The need for diversity is demanding. Computers, lasers, advanced photography equipment, and modern communications devices are frequently used in law enforcement. Specialized knowledge in any of the above mentioned disciplines would certainly be a plus for any credible law enforcement agency. Areas of specialization are unlimited; it is not necessary that your educational background be confined to law enforcement. There are literally thousands of jobs in law enforcement available throughout the country, and a vast majority of them are not the typical field assignments that are traditionally displayed via the media.

The Courts

The second arm of the criminal justice process is the court system. It is the responsibility of the courts to evaluate evidence and present a finding as to whether a person is innocent or guilty. This level often appeals to college graduates simply because there is a "white collar" job function often associated with persons employed in the court system. Generally, there are fewer employment opportunities with the courts than with the two other arms of the criminal justice system. Most people can readily identify the major players in the court system.

There are several career opportunities available within the court system. District attorneys or prosecutors, are key positions. A degree in law is necessary to fill such a position.

District attorneys employ assistants to try cases in the court. Larger metropolitan areas constantly hire new employees to work as assistant district attorneys (prosecutors). The turnover rate is often high, because this position is sometimes used as a training opportunity for criminal defense lawyers. Nonetheless, it is still a viable career opportunity for law school graduates.

Other positions in the court system include court bailiffs, grand jury bailiffs, and investigators of the district attorney or county attorney's office. In some courts an attorney is on the staff specifically to represent indigent defendants. Recently some large jurisdictions have employed administrative judges (non-elected) to dispose of court cases. This fairly new concept was designed to aid in court overcrowding. Medium to small court systems will not normally employ administrative judges.

Employment within the court system is available at the municipal, county, state, and federal levels. In many jurisdictions, employees of the court system are hired via the sheriff's office, or the district attorney's office. Inquiries about job availability can be made to the personnel offices of both agencies.


The final arm of the criminal justice system is corrections, which carries out the orders of the court. Corrections consists of the jails, prisons, rehabilitation programs, and the probation and parole systems. Again, employment opportunities with the corrections system exist at the federal, state, and local levels. Correctional officers are employed at all three levels, in both jails and prisons. Their major responsibility is the day-to-day supervision, work assignments, and custody of inmates.

Prior to assignment of inmates, many penal institutions use classification officers to perform a variety of duties necessary to aid in rehabilitating inmates. Classification officers may be used to gather and study background information on inmates, as well as in the development of programs designed to aid the prisoner's reform.

Probation and parole officers' employment opportunities are increasing with the overcrowding of the jails and prisons. The probation officer is responsible for a person who was convicted but not ordered to incarceration, while the parole officer is responsible for a person who has been released from incarceration prior to serving a full sentence.

Caseworkers are used by the corrections system as an alternative to stiffer requirements for offenders. Generally, the caseworker is responsible for first-time offenders and juveniles. Educational backgrounds in sociology and psychology are definitely a plus in this job.

The availability of jobs in the criminal justice system has long been overlooked. Many people believe that these jobs go unfilled because of attitudes developed about the jobs. Jobs in the criminal justice field offer security as well as pay and benefits comparable to those in the private sector. The criminal justice field has become highly specialized, and employers actively seek college students, with an accompanying rise in pay and benefits. Positions in law enforcement carry salaries that range from the low-$20s to over $30,000 per year for entry-level employees. (Note: some smaller agencies pay less). Additionally, many court system jobs and jobs in the correctional field offer competitive salaries and benefits. One should also be aware that other factors significantly affect earnings. The cost of housing, transportation, day-care, and living essentials may seriously dilute a large salary, while inexpensive living costs increase the spending power of a smaller salary. Finally, if you are unemployed, or underemployed you owe it to yourself to take a look at employment opportunities within the criminal justice system.

Thomas L. Glover is a detective sergeant with the Dallas Police Department.

Mark A. Chandler Bureau of Land Management Ranger United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management Washington, DC

As a Bureau of Land Management Ranger, Chandler's duties include enforcing federal laws and regulations conducive to the protection of public lands and resources, investigating crimes against the U.S. government and the public that relate to public lands and representing the government in court against violations of federal land laws. He also provides emergency medical services to visitors of public lands, coordinates special enforcement details, and participates in drug surveillance, eradication, and apprehension assignments.

Chandler began his career in law enforcement as a seasonal ranger with the Nevada Division of State Parks and his Federal career as a cooperative education student with the National Park Service in 1984. In 1988, he transferred to the Bureau of Land Management, California Desert District, Palm Springs, CA. Office, as BLM Ranger. BLM offered greater job diversity through its resident ranger program.

Chandler patrols 100,000 acres of public lands between Los Angeles and San Diego counties. He interacts with local police and fire agencies and coordinates resource management projects on public lands.

A native of Las Vegas, Chandler earned his A.S. in agriculture in 1981, and a BS in forestry in 1986 from the University of Nevada, Reno. While in college, he worked as a Reserve Police Officer for the university.

His advice to students on how to succeed: "Success starts by believing in yourself and your dreams. A strong mentor can guide you through college and career obstacles.

"BLM Ranger positions are very popular. I would encourage every African-American student interested in a career as a BLM Ranger to apply for a cooperative education position in college. Cooperative education positions allow student trainees to gain valuable work experience and pay while in school. Seniors should apply to the Federal employment register."
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Title Annotation:Career Reports: Liberal Arts; includes related article
Author:Glover, Thomas
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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