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Associate degree programs in criminal justice teach students about the U.S. legal system and institutions that work to enforce the law and prevent crime. Full-time students typically spend about two years working toward an associate of science, associate of arts, or associate of applied science in criminal justice, depending on the school. Over the course of the degree program, students take a combination of criminal justice and general education courses in addition to elective classes in other subjects.

Online Associate Degree in Criminal Justice: Coursework and Overview

Although the curriculum varies by school, several courses are common to criminal justice associate degree programs. There are also various courses outside of criminal justice that can help students prepare for potential careers. Examples of courses include:

Criminal Justice Degree Courses

  • Criminal Justice: Introductory criminal justice courses examine the development of the criminal justice system as well as the institutions that work to uphold the law and punish offenders, including police departments, courts, and correctional facilities.
  • Corrections: Corrections courses provide an overview of the structure and functions of U.S. correctional institutions. Examples of topics covered include probation, parole, and community corrections.
  • Policing: Students learn about the organizational structure of police departments as well as the roles and responsibilities of officers. Some courses also inform students about police recruitment processes.
  • Criminal Procedure: Students learn about the process of apprehending suspects, from finding to incarcerating them. Studies commonly cover investigation, interrogations, prosecution, trial, and sentencing of suspects.

Courses outside of Criminal Justice

  • Sociology: Introductory sociology courses offer a basic overview of research and theories examining human behavior. Students explore a wide range of topics, including socioeconomic groups, race, income, gender roles, and inequality.
  • Interpersonal Communications: These classes provide students with an opportunity to enhance their listening and conflict resolution skills, which could be useful in criminal justice professions for interactions with offenders and fellow law enforcement officers.
  • Legal Studies: Classes feature an overview of the U.S. legal system and exposure to legal research and legal reasoning. Introductory legal studies courses cover topics relevant to criminal justice, such as the role of major components of the legal system (for example, courts, civil laws, and criminal laws).

Potential Career Opportunities in Criminal Justice

Associate degree programs can lay the groundwork to help prepare students for diverse careers in criminal justice. Programs may teach students about various correctional facilities, the responsibilities of different law enforcement careers, and approaches to common situations facing law enforcement officers. Examples of careers in criminal justice include:

  • Police officers enforce laws that protect the lives and property of others. They may also arrest suspects and testify in court. Students interested in becoming a police officer can gain an idea of the day-to-day responsibilities and different types of police work through policing courses.
  • Correctional officers primarily work in jails and prisons. They oversee individuals who are waiting for trial or who have been sentenced to a correctional facility. Corrections courses can introduce students to the American correctional system.
  • Bailiffs keep order in a court of law. Some of their responsibilities include assisting judges, guarding juries from outside interaction, and delivering court documents. Legal studies courses may familiarize students with court structure, trial and court procedures, and the environment in which bailiffs work.
  • Gaming surveillance officers observe casinos and casino hotels for irregular activities. They typically rely on video and in-person surveillance to perform their duties. For students interested in becoming gaming surveillance officers, policing and law enforcement courses may suggest what kinds of behavior to look out for and techniques for approaching dangerous circumstances while on the job.

An associate degree offers a foundation in criminal justice for those interested in entering the field. In addition, the general education for an associate degree may help students develop important skills for criminal justice professions, such as critical thinking and report writing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014 stated that the above careers may require specialized training. For example, gaming surveillance officers typically need some training after high school, and most police officers graduate from an agency training academy. Correctional officers usually go through a training academy and on-the-job training, and certain agencies require some college coursework or experience.

Students who want to continue their education in criminal justice after earning an associate degree can do so with a bachelor's degree program. Individuals who wish to pursue a bachelor's degree in criminal justice should speak with an admissions counselor to make sure that they can transfer their credits.

Sources

"Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Security-guards.htm

"Police and Detectives," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Police-and-detectives.htm

"Private Detectives and Investigators," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Protective-Service/Private-detectives-and-investigators.htm

"Correctional Officers," U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/correctional-officers.htm

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