Doctorate in Criminal Justice & Legal Studies Degrees
Doctorate in Criminal Justice programs, legal studies, and related programs, prepare students to create, interpret, and enforce the law in their communities. This discipline incorporates many unique concentrations, which may support a variety of legal and protective roles. For example, a Doctorate in Criminal Justice degree could help you in pursuit of your goals whether you’re a lawyer or legislator looking to advance your skills, an academic in pursuit of research opportunities, or work in law enforcement to keep your community safe.
Criminal justice and legal studies programs may not only discuss legal matters in theory, but also hone the leadership chops to put that knowledge into action.
Types of Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs
Broadly, Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs and legal studies programs, focus on the law. They discuss how it’s created, how it’s applied and enforced, and the impact it has on different communities. As this is such a large topic, many programs are designed more narrowly, instead focusing on one particular concentration area. Often, these concentration areas map to different applications of legal expertise. For example, some might skew toward law enforcement, while others focus on research or lawmaking.
Criminal Justice & Criminalistics PhD Programs
Criminal Justice and criminalistics doctoral programs focus on the application of law as it relates to crime and law enforcement. Students might study the criminal justice system as a whole, including the courts, corrections, and crime prevention. Some programs may be designed to facilitate an active role in these systems. Others might take a more academic track, focusing on studying the impact of crime and law enforcement on individuals and communities.
Some doctorate programs in criminal justice or criminalistics offer students the option to further concentrate their curriculum. That may include the following examples.
- Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs: Criminal Justice, in this context, refers to the study of the criminal justice system itself and how it impacts communities. Often, at the doctoral level, these programs focus on research about the system, or on preparing students to teach others how the criminal justice systems work. This topic may share some elements with programs like public policy and law, not to mention criminology and criminal psychology.
- Criminal Psychology Doctorates: Earning a doctorate in criminal psychology degree could mean honing one’s expertise about what drives people to criminal behavior. This primarily includes psychological issues, but may also touch on interpersonal, social, and economic factors. Some programs may examine the psychology of victims of crime, and discuss ways to help victims cope as well.
- PhD in Criminology Programs: While criminal justice programs focus on the system, criminology doctoral programs discuss crime itself, what factors encourage criminal behavior, how it impacts communities, and how we could use this knowledge to prevent crime. Criminology may also touch on criminal psychology, in addition to socioeconomic challenges and other factors. Some programs may be scholarly in nature and focus on research into why crime happens and how it effects people, while others may be more practice-oriented, helping students prepare to work in the community.
These three concentrations may not be the only ones out there. Individual schools and programs may have a variety of potential tracks of study not listed here. For more information on these subjects areas and others, reach out to the school in question.
Forensic Science doctoral programs focus on the application of chemistry, biology, and related scientific disciplines in criminal investigations, court cases, and, to a lesser degree, civil cases. This highly technical field might take a variety of approaches and support an array of forensic science roles. For example, some might look specifically at analyzing and gathering evidence at a crime scene. Others might focus on chemical analysis in the lab. Still more might examine the human and behavioral element, as with forensic psychology. Forensic science may also have applications outside the realm of criminal investigation. It could be used in business, anthropology, and medicine for example. As such, potential students might find a diverse range of possibilities when searching for forensic science doctoral programs.
Homeland Security & National Defense
Doctorate in Homeland Security Programs bring together intelligence, security, military defense, technology and organizational studies. Doctoral programs may take a scholarly approach, using research methodologies to evaluate real domestic and international security concerns, and the strategies used to combat them. Or they might focus on taking that research data and applying it constructively, to formulate new defense strategies. Homeland security doctoral programs may also touch on related topics like military history, international security, and emergency and crisis management.
Law Enforcement, Policing & Investigation
At the doctoral level, law enforcement programs are often referred to as Strategic Security. This dynamic field combines some elements of criminal justice and criminology with leadership and organizational knowledge, and topics like counterterrorism, intelligence, and protection management. Law enforcement doctoral programs often look toward potential leadership roles in government, nonprofits, and private defense corporations—meaning the curriculum may emphasize developing those types of skills and knowledge.
Legal studies doctoral programs could take a few different approaches to exploring the legal system. Many programs may focus on the practice of law in a courtroom setting. These could support those pursuing a career as a lawyer, or enhance the skills of experienced lawyers. However, that’s not the only option. Many doctorate in legal studies programs also take a scholarly approach. This means developing a deep understanding of the legal system or one aspect of it. Programs may entail researching those topics to examine how the criminal justice system plays out in today’s society. Others may look at how law enforcement impacts different communities. Programs may also focus specifically on academic pursuits. One example of this would be teaching about law in a university setting. Other programs might support political action, research about specific topics like ethnic or cultural experiences, or focus on the law as it applies in certain industries.
Types of Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degrees
Depending on the doctorate in criminal justice program you enroll in, you might be able to earn several different types of degrees. In many cases, the type of doctorate in criminal justice degree being awarded has a direct relationship with the approach taken by the curriculum, or the type of expertise developed in that program. As such, depending on your personal or professional goals, you may have a strong preference for one over the others.
- Criminal Justice PhD Degree: Perhaps one of the most commonly awarded degree types, PhD in Criminal Justice is a fairly broad category. In many (though not all) cases, these programs are scholarly or research-oriented, emphasizing research methodologies and practices within Criminal Justice, as well as skills like teaching criminal justice at the undergraduate or graduate level. Some may also touch on management and leadership within government and security organizations.
- Doctor of Psychology in Criminal Justice (PsyD) Degree: Generally speaking, programs awarding a Doctor of Psychology degree are part of a psychology school. These programs tend to focus on the psychological underpinnings of criminal behavior, or on how people are impacted psychologically by crime as a victim or bystander. Often, PsyD in Criminal Justice programs aim toward clinical practice rather than research. However, some research-oriented programs may also exist.
- Criminal Justice JD (Juris Doctor, or Doctor of Jurisprudence) Degree: A Criminal Justice Juris Doctor is a professional degree generally issued by a school of law. Often, these programs facilitate the practice of law in a professional sense, such as a courtroom lawyer or in a legal analyst role. Within criminal justice, this could mean the curriculum focuses on criminal law or criminal defense. Unlike PhDs or SDJ programs, these programs generally do not require a dissertation to complete.
- Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD): This is the research doctorate equivalent of the Criminal Justice JD listed above. Considered the highest law degree, this terminal degree focuses on scholarly research into criminal justice and related legal issues. Some universities may actually consider this a postdoctoral degree. Like the PhD, this type of program generally requires a dissertation at the culmination of the program.
In addition to the above, on a case by case basis, you may encounter other types of degrees being awarded. This could include a Doctor of Public Administration, or a Doctor of Social Work, among others. As with the examples listed above, these may emphasize particular skills and knowledge unique to that degree type. For more information on the types of degrees you might be able to work toward in a program, and how that degree type influences the curriculum, reach out to the schools in question.
Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs Formats
One major component in determining the right criminal justice doctoral programs for you—whether it fits into your life. Each doctoral candidate has different needs, responsibilities, and ways of learning, so not every program might offer the types of things you’re looking for. By identifying what format you prefer, you could narrow the list of contenders down to the ones that could really help you succeed.
- Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice: Online doctoral programs allow students to access coursework, materials and connect with professors through a digital platform. Many online criminal justice doctoral programs could be self-paced, meaning you could take on what you can handle in your life. This flexibility in scheduling could make it a little easier to continue working, while learning and developing the expertise you need. Because these programs are offered online, you could study in programs across the country, enabling you to choose the one that really focuses on what you’re interested in. Plus you could benefit from the input of students like yourself in different types of communities, comparing your experiences and diversifying your perspectives.
- Criminal Justice Doctorate Schools: Earning your doctorate in criminal justice in a graduate school setting could have a number of advantages. For one, your graduate school campus would be anchored in the local community. That means you could gain a local perspective, not just learning about criminal justice, but also about how it impacts the people you might work with every day, and the unique concerns in your area. Plus, your doctoral program may have connections to the law enforcement community in your area. And your fellow students may, too! That may make it a valuable networking opportunity. On top of all that, you could take advantage of campus resources, like advanced technology, laboratory research, library and research assistance, and more. Some campus programs may even offer flexible scheduling, or offer some classes online, providing added flexibility and personalization alongside face-to-face study.
Criminal Justice Careers
In most cases, entry level employment in criminal justice, protective services, and legal professions could be found prior to the doctoral level. Some fields may only require an undergraduate degree or specialized training in order to get started. As such, many students pursuing a doctorate in criminal justice do so to support their ongoing careers, enhance their skills, or to move into a more advanced role.
Because criminal justice is so broad, a diverse range of career paths may be available. Many of these may have unique requirements or expectations. These could include on the job training, certification or licensure, which could vary from state to state.
A few examples of the types of careers one might pursue include the following.
- Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Postsecondary Teachers: $59,590 (2016 Median Annual Salary)i
- Detectives and Criminal Investigators: $79,120 (2016 Median Annual Salary)ii
- Judges and Hearing Officers: $109,940 (2016 Median Annual Salary)iii
- Lawyers: $118,160 (2016 Median Annual Salary)iv
Find Your Doctorate in Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Program
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[i] bls.gov/oes/current/oes251111.htm | [ii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/legal/judges-and-hearing-officers.htm | [iv] bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
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