Understanding the Components of the Criminal Justice System

Law Enforcement Police Officer

Perhaps one of the most unique industries within America is the United States criminal justice system. This encompassing and dynamic system features a myriad of levels and parts. Each of these parts features a unique legal focus, and while they may seem separated, they all work in unison to provide full coverage and continuity of law. Although we can dissect the United States criminal justice system into a variety of parts, there are three primary components which comprise the entire legal system.

Component #1 – Law Enforcement

The fundamental component within the United States criminal justice system is law enforcement. This unique component consists of police officers, federal agents, park/game rangers and detectives – just to name a few. These are the professionals who typically make the first contact with criminals and are essential to providing safety to the general public. They are the ones who uphold local, state and federal laws and make apprehensions should a crime be committed.

Law enforcement professionals must be well-versed in the rights of suspected criminals as well as the regulations when it comes to search and seizure. Police officers must also be aware of the various civil and citizen rights to ensure the rights of all Americans aren’t compromised during an investigation or response to potential crimes. If becoming a police officer interests you, there are many resources available that outline how to become a police officer fast so you can jump right into the career. Your Police Career states that becoming a police officer is a great career, as it is a stable position with excellent state-run pensions and retirement programs available after your tenure.

Component #2 – The Court System

The next level of the United States criminal justice system is the court system. The key individuals who are found within this level of the legal system include attorney’s, jury members and judges. The majority of these positions are held by elected officials, such as judges and district attorneys. The court system is where an arrested offender undergoes a trial by his peers in order to determine whether or not he is guilty or innocent of his suspected crime. Should the offender be found guilty, they are then ushered into the next – and final – level of the criminal justice system.

Component #3 – The Correctional System

The final layer of the Untied States criminal justice system is the correctional system. This unique component handles criminals who have been convicted of a crime. Key persons within this layer of the system include: correctional officers, parole officers and probation officers. Each professional within the correctional system work together to ensure the offender carries out his or her sentence according to the statutes established by state and federal laws as well as by the sentencing judge.

Criminal Justice Degree Careers – Financial Forensic Accounting


Wondering what jobs can you get with a criminal justice degree? Financial forensics, also referred to as forensic accountants, are professionals who work with law enforcement agencies to investigate the financial data of organizations or individuals. Generally, these professionals are called upon to help build a case against or for a third party. If you have a genuine love for the accounting field, but you wish to do more than simply prepare taxes, then a career as a forensic accountant may be your ideal option. While this career generally requires a certificate or degree in criminal justice, you must be prepared to expand your career by taking accounting and forensic accounting courses.

Job Duties of a Financial Forensic Accountant

While the exact responsibilities and duties of this position will vary based upon your employer and the industry in which you’re employed, nearly all of the positions within this field feature several universal duties and responsibilities. Some of these functions include:

  • Conduct forensic investigations and analysis of various financial records, which include both digital and hard copy financial documents.
  • Perform detailed research to trace the pathway of financial transactions in order to help identify various assets that may be recovered.
  • Prepare detailed forensic reports based upon findings discovered throughout the investigation.
  • Cultivate reports and other forms of analytical data that’s used for litigation. This position may require you to testify for either the prosecution or defense.

Educational Requirements

While the exact educational requirements for this profession can vary based upon the exact sector you with to work for, forensic accounting professionals are typically required to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in forensic accounting. Some of the most successful candidates are those who obtain a double major in criminal justice and forensic accounting. Along with obtaining a degree, most employers prefer a candidate to hold a specialized certification. Some of the most desired certifications include:

  • Certified Fraud Examiner or CFE
  • Chartered Accountant or CA
  • Certified Public Accountant or CPA

Salary for Forensic Accountants

The salary for this position can range anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 per year. Of course, the city in which you work will determine your total take home amount. Those who have at least seven years experience within this field generally take home over $150,000 per year. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the company the higher the pay. For example, a major consulting firm will pay significantly more than a nonprofit organization.

The job outlook for this position is promising due to various legislative acts that were recently passed. These laws have created stricter accounting policies, which have not only created more jobs for standard accountants, but also a higher demand for well-trained forensic accountants.

Further Reading: Criminal Law vs Criminal Justice Degrees

4 Primary Courses of a Criminal Justice Degree Program


A degree in criminal justice is one of the most rewarding, and flexible, degree programs any student can enroll in. Due to the various topics that are covered within this program, students are able to master a variety of skills and topics that are in-demand not only within the criminal justice system, but in the private sector as well. Post 9/11, the security services industry in America has been booming. These jobs typically entail security guards and officers, private security detail, and corporate security contracts. If you’re interested in enrolling in a criminal justice degree program to specialize in fields such as unarmed security guard training or for a federal position such as the U.S. Marshals, then you should take a moment to review the following four primary courses and topics covered in all security services and criminal justice degree programs.

Criminal Justice Degree Program Courses:

The Law and Legal System

This is perhaps the cornerstone of any criminal justice degree program. Throughout this course, you’ll be taught the processes, structures and history of the American legal system. This program is designed to introduce students about law who otherwise have little knowledge of this dynamic and complex subject. While this is the general course, it’s an essential building block before pursuing more specialty topics, such as constitutional law, business law or criminal law. Topics covered within this course include the structure the American court system, primary subdivisions of law, which include criminal procedure, law or torts and civil procedure.

Substantive Criminal Law

This essential course covers all topics related to substantive criminal law. While the exact topics covered within this coursework can vary based upon the training institutions, the most common topics include discovering the origins of criminal law, elements of criminal liability, substantive due process, a process of uncompleted crimes, criminal liability defenses and the doctrine of complicity. Other subject areas may include the various elements of crimes against property, public order, morals, habitation and persons. These courses can be particularly useful for those wishing to obtain their security guard card, or when submitting a PERC card application within their state, such as Illinois requires.

Law of Criminal Procedure

The law of criminal procedure is a vital subject matter for all criminal justice degree students. Within this subject matter, students will learn about the various laws that determine due process that’s involved in criminal defendants. The foundation of this course is case analyses and case interpretations. Students will learn the relationship between criminal procedures, court system and how the U.S. Constitution plays a role in these processes. Other topics include the use of interrogations and its subsequent confessions, identification processes, state law breaking, conviction by trial, the convictions by guilty plea and considerations related to sentencing.


Criminal justice ethics are one of the most important subject matters as the topics covered within this coursework are applicable to industries outside of the criminal justice system. Throughout the coursework, students learn how to address various ethical issues that may arise when working within the criminal justice system. Throughout a combination of lectures, discussions and hands-on exercises, students are able to cultivate a better understanding in how ethical dilemmas play a role within the criminal justice system.

Criminal Law vs Criminal Justice Degrees



If you’re considering a career within the criminal justice system, then you likely understand many of these career options require some form of certification or degree. While you may have a general idea of the coursework that’s involved for your desired career, many aspiring criminal justice system workers become confused when it comes to the exact type of degree they should obtain. Perhaps the most common area of confusion involves the difference between criminal law and criminal justice degrees. While similar, the scope of study involved within these two areas is vastly different.

The Differences Between Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Degrees

Although these two subject matters may sound similar, they are vastly different from what’s studied and required for graduation. While the criminal justice system involves both justice and law, the degree programs for each of these topics is vastly different. In the most general of senses, criminal justice is the collective of procedure, policy and practice, which is an essential component of security guard training. With the national increase in hiring security guard companies recently, a criminal justice degree with an emphasis in security services is more relevant than ever.

Criminal justice degree programs primarily focus on criminal investigations and crime prevention. Basically, these programs focus on the varied aspects that pertain to law enforcement and its strategies. There are various agencies that deal with criminal justice. Moreover, these agencies actively work to investigate and prosecute criminal behavior and specific crimes. For example, the FBI investigates federal crimes that occur throughout the United States while the CIA investigates international crimes. Local police departments investigate crimes and criminal behavior within city limits while U.S. Customs Agents actively work to secure the borders of the United States.

This brings us to Criminal Law. This subject, which is also referred to as Penal Law, does not focus so much on the actual criminal acts or behavior of a society, but rather on the actual laws and regulations that help control the peace and security of a civilization. Unlike criminal justice degree programs, which primarily focus on preventing crimes, criminal law narrows its coursework on what actually happens should a person commit a crime. Subject areas within this degree deal with topics such as: dealing with court proceedings, sentencing based upon local and federal laws, verdicts and all other elements that create the law portion of the criminal justice system.

Those who are seeking out a career in the actual court system, such as an attorney, legal mediator, or those interested in becoming a security officer should obtain a criminal law degree. Regardless of what specialty you wish to work in, it’s essential that you further your understanding of the difference between a criminal justice and a criminal law degree. While you may feel you need one or the other, it’s essential that you fully understand what each degree program requires and the job opportunities from having one of these degrees. Either way, expect to pursue a graduate-level degree in either criminal justice or criminal law to secure a professional-level, and well-paid, position within the criminal justice system.

Criminal Justice Degree Career Options – Anti-Terrorism Officer


What can you do with a criminal justice degree? How about a career as an Anti-Terrorism Officer. Since 9/11, the role of anti-terrorism units has grown substantially. If you’re interested in working in both a local and national scale by actively protecting civilians and identifying potential terrorism threats, then this may be the career option for you. While there are various avenues an aspiring anti-terrorism professional may take, one of the most highly sought after degree paths for these positions is a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice that’s highlighted by anti-terrorism electives. Officially known as Anti-Terrorism Officers, or ATOs, these professionals actively work with local and national law enforcement officers and various government agencies to safeguard the land and people we love.

Anti-Terrorism Officer Job Description

There are very few law enforcement officers equipped with the necessary training and experience to deal with high-security threats that are commonly associated with terrorism or large organized terrorist groups. Modern terrorism is unique in the methods that are used in their quest to destroy the calm of a civilization. Therefore, the job functions of an anti-terrorism officer are unique and highly advanced.

Before delving into the educational requirements for this profession, it’s essential to understand what’s expected of an anti-terrorism officer. While specific job functions will vary based upon the employer and your specific function within this arm of the government, the most common job functions include:

  • Actively protect seaports and airports from land, air and sea threats.
  • Secure and protect utility services, such as water treatment facilities and power plants.
  • Work with sea law enforcement officers to safeguard ships and other vessels that carry hazardous cargo as well as protecting the chemical plants from invasion.
  • Add an advanced-level of security during public events and festivals.
  • Provide supplementary levels of security for government agencies and facilities, such as U.S. military bases and U.S. embassies.

Anti-Terrorism Officer Educational Requirements

Most of the anti-terrorism officers are required to not only hold a strong understanding of criminal justice, which is gained by completing either a certificate or degree program. Along with this foundational level of education, the majority of these positions requires a specialized certification program. Generally, this certificate program consists of 52-hours of classroom and hand-on training. In order to qualify for a position within this career field, candidates must pass both written and hands-on field examinations. Along with passing the aforementioned, all aspiring anti-terrorism officers must pass various weapon safety courses, which include passing requirements for handguns, rifle and shotguns.