Top criminal justice careers and their salaries

criminal justice careers

Serving your community and making a difference all starts with a criminal justice degree. The highest-paying criminal justice careers usually require graduate school or law school. But there are plenty of careers that require an associate or bachelor's degree or special training in criminal justice or a related field. 

Judge

Judges preside over civil and criminal cases. They review legal briefs, arguments and evidence, and guide juries in understanding their responsibilities. At the end of a case, judges pass the final verdict. In criminal cases, judges decide on the sentence if the defendant is convicted. 

An experienced lawyer can be appointed or elected as a judge. State and local judges have renewable or fixed terms of office. Some federal judges are appointed to lifelong terms.

Salary: Salaries range from $126,000-$135,000.

Lawyer

Lawyers represent clients in criminal and civil trials. They advocate for their clients and advise them on their legal rights. Many lawyers specialize in a single area, such as corporate, environmental or international law. Lawyers must complete a bachelor’s degree and a law degree, then pass the bar exam and other licensing programs. 

Salary: Salaries range from $14,000-$172,000. The average base salary is $69,293.

Paralegal 

Paralegals work for lawyers and have many of the same work responsibilities. Paralegals collect and analyze information used in trials and other proceedings. They also help prepare contracts and legal documents such as trust funds and tax returns. However, unlike lawyers, paralegals can’t argue cases in court or practice law independently. Paralegals can work in law firms, bankruptcy firms or corporations, or they can work as independent contractors or public notaries.

To practice as a paralegal, you need at least an associate degree from a criminal justice or paralegal program. Many law students become paralegals while in law school to gain experience and help pay for law school.

Salary: Salaries range from $14,000-$102,000. The average base salary is $46,572.

Intelligence analyst

Intelligence analysts help solve crimes from behind the scenes. They analyze data to help solve cases, and they make sure evidence is processed correctly. Intelligence analysts can work at the local and state level, but most work at the federal level for the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).

Salary: Salaries range from $14,000-$139,000. The average base salary is $56,822.

FBI agent 

FBI agents enforce federal laws. They can specialize in fields such as counterterrorism, organized crime, public corruption and cybercrime, and they participate in investigations from finding evidence to solve crime—or prevent them.

There are many paths to becoming an FBI agent. Depending on the position you choose, you can start your career in many fields such as intelligence analysis, applied science or information and technology.

Before applying to the FBI Academy, you must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Few people make it into the FBI Academy, and even fewer become agents. To be admitted to the FBI Academy, you need to pass strict background checks and physical exams. You must also have criminal justice experience and be between 23 and 37 years old at the time of hiring. Exceptions are made for federal officers and veterans. 

Once you make it into the FBI Academy, training includes academics, operations, case exercises and firearms training. 

Salary: Salaries range from $24,000-$189,000. The average base salary is $87,730.

Police officer

Police officers respond to community problems, investigate suspicious activities, make arrests, patrol or guard assigned areas and testify in court. They also aim to lower crime and build solidarity through community outreach efforts. Police officers can work for federal, state or local agencies. Becoming a police officer requires graduating from a police academy program.

While a degree isn’t required to be a police officer, officers with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field often earn higher salaries and are more likely to receive promotions. Given that every community needs police officers, this position can have high job security.

Salary: Salaries range from $35,000-$80,000. The average base salary is $52,540.

Detective

After a few years as a police officer, you can apply to become a detective. These professionals collect evidence through observation, interviews and research. Detectives work for law enforcement agencies, private firms and task forces. They usually specialize in a certain area of detective work such as burglary, white-collar crime or forensics. If you're interested in forensics, you should become a crime scene investigator major

Salary: Salaries range from $19,000-$182,000. The average base salary is $79,620.

Get Started at Lynn

Lynn University's bachelor's degree in criminal justice and master's degree in criminal justice provide you with the resources and practical training you need to succeed in your criminal justice job. Course topics include criminology, psychology and victimology.

Learn about related career paths including careers in psychology and journalism.