What Can I Do With a Degree in Criminology?

Updated March 23, 2017

Careers in criminology can vary widely. As the name implies, criminologists work with crime. Crime prevention, crime intelligence and criminal corrections are all facets of criminology. An individual with a degree in criminology can work as close or as far from the actual crimes and criminals as he wants. A degree in criminology opens opportunities to become a law enforcement officer, corrections officer, crime scene investigator, probation/parole officer and crime analyst.

Law Enforcement

There is never a shortage of job openings for police officers. Many regions of the country are greatly understaffed with law enforcement professionals. There is slightly higher competition for those who aspire to state or federal law enforcement agencies. Specific duties vary, depending on the individual officer, occupational speciality and agency. Local uniformed police officers, for example, can direct traffic at the scene of an accident, patrol a community, respond to emergency calls or investigate small crimes. State police officers, on the other land, often patrol highways, arrest criminals statewide and carry out administrative assignments. Although a career in law enforcement can be very rewarding, it is very personally challenging. Because law enforcement must be provided 24 hours each day, officers work a variety of shifts. New officers are frequently required to work long hours at the most inconvenient times, such as weekends, holidays and nights. Continual exposure to death and criminal behaviour can be very damaging to an individual's personal life.

Corrections Officer

The process of admitting people into jails is overseen by corrections officers. Outside of the jail, these officers have no other law enforcement duties. They are solely responsible for maintain security at the jail site and preventing disturbances and escapes. Whether they serve in a local or federal jail or penitentiary, correctional officers are charged with maintaining order, enforcing rules and overseeing inmates. This includes supervising inmates as they complete work assignments and inspecting inmates and cells. Correctional officers must also inspect mail and visitors. It is the responsibility of a correctional officer to ensure that contraband does not enter the facility and that living conditions remain sanitary for the inmates. He is also responsible for inspecting the facility for evidence of tampering, which can indicate an attempted escape. Correctional officers are also responsible for maintaining daily logs and reports of what they have witnessed. These include summaries of work assignments, security breaches and rules violations.

Although correctional officers must always have a communications device on their person, they are often unarmed. This is not always true in high- or maximum-security facilities. It is not uncommon for officers to be injured by inmates. Because these facilities must be monitored 24 hours each day, officers generally work 40 hours per week on rotating shifts, including weekends and holidays.

Crime Scene Investigator

These special detectives are usually plainclothes investigators. They collect facts and various evidence for criminal cases until an arrest or conviction is made. They are employed by a law enforcement agency and participate in interviews and raids. They investigate a variety of crimes, including homicides, sexual crimes and property theft. The duties of these investigators are wide and often gruesome. Depending on the individual case, investigators may be required to participate in and photograph autopsies, package and transport evidence and attend briefings. They are also responsible for preparing reports.

Depending on the caseload, investigators may work a varying amount of hours per week. They are expected to be available at any time of day and must be able to respond to a call as quickly as safely possible. Once on the scene, investigators are required to act as professionally and quickly as possible. Based on available evidence, they must be able to realistically reconstruct events as they happened prior to, during, and after the crime.

After the crime is solved, they are usually required to provide detailed reports and give expert witness testimony in court. This assists with the conviction of the criminal. Crime scene investigators are required to have significant experience in specific criminology topics. It is a hard career to achieve but is considered very rewarding, as individuals in this capacity directly protect public safety and solve complex crimes.

Probation & Parole Officer

Probation and parole officers monitor individuals who have been convicted of crimes but are not currently incarcerated. These include small-time criminals who were never sent to jail and instead submitted to a probationary period, and serious offenders who have been recently released from prison. During this period, these offenders are required to meet stringent requirements, including regular check-ins with a probation/parole officer and a clean criminal record. Officers maintain close personal contact with these offenders and their families during this time. This can occur over the phone, at the officer's office, or in the offender's home. In addition to arranging contact, officers may also require an individual participate in drug testing, substance abuse counselling or job training and supervise the offender as they participate in these programs.

Because of their close contact with criminals, these officers work very closely with the court system. They attend hearings and often testify of the offender's behaviour. They evaluate the offender's compliance with sentencing and can recommend additional sentencing. Some more serious offenders must wear electronic monitoring devices. This allows the officer to oversee their location and movements from a remote location and provides continual monitoring. Typically, officers handling high maintenance cases requiring such monitoring will only handle 20 or so cases at a time.

Depending on the laws governing a particular location, an officer may handle probation and parole cases. In most instances, an officer will work either with adults or juveniles, but some rural areas combine these responsibilities as well. Officers will typically only handle 20 to 100 cases at a time, depending on the difficulty and risk factor of the offenders. Because they have frequent interaction with offenders and family, many of whom are angry or dangerous, they usually are required to carry a weapon for protection.

Deadlines place stressful workloads on officers. Although they typically only assigned a 40-hour workweek, probation and parole officers are required to be accessible 24 hours a day in case of emergencies and must be able to assist offenders at any time.

Crime Intelligence Analyst

Most people with a degree in criminology begin their career as an analyst. These individuals study crime and profile suspects. They study available data to predict and prevent crime, and inform officers of any patterns in criminal behaviour. This career has no contact with criminals themselves. It's primarily a desk job, studying information as it is inputted into a computer system. Utilising complex computer software, analysts plot information and can often effectively predict the day, time and place that a particular crime is likely to occur by comparing common features of recent crimes--including method, weapon, and suspect description. Analysts work closely with police chiefs and city administrators to establish where police patrols need to increase and what areas are most at-risk for crime.

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About the Author

Nicole Thelin has more than a decade of professional writing experience. She has contributed to newspapers such as the "Daily Herald" of Provo, Utah, and now writes for several online publications. Thelin is pursuing a bachelor's degree in education from Western Governors University.