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.
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 or legal mediator, 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.