What is criminal justice? A closer look at the field and those who work in it
From public executions during archaic times to the current media obsession with high-profile cases, criminal justice has always had a way of seizing public intrigue. Whether you’re captivated by criminology, fascinated with the legal system or passionate about the rehabilitation of offenders, there’s a lot in the criminal justice field to intrigue you.
Individuals from all walks of life remain interested in criminal justice. You, like so many others, are no exception. What is criminal justice, exactly? And who are the professionals who work in this field?
We spoke with seasoned experts to get the answers to all your questions. If you’re curious about the world of criminal justice and those who keep it running, read on to learn more. You may just come across a position that piques your interest.
What is criminal justice?
Here’s the short answer: “Criminal justice is the structure of laws, rules and agencies designed to hold criminals accountable for their misdeeds and help them to restore their victims as much as possible,” explains Lizbeth Meredith, juvenile probation supervisor, author and former victim advocate.
Many people think of police officers when they hear the term “criminal justice,” but the field actually encompasses much more than law enforcement. Attorney Michael Hernandez breaks down criminal justice into the following areas:
- The enforcement of laws and apprehension of violators
- The prosecution of criminal cases and the defense against those prosecutions
- The punishment and rehabilitation of offenders
- The protection of witnesses and victims
- The programs and efforts to prevent criminal activity
- The analysis and creation of new laws prohibiting or penalizing behavior
In the United States, there is no singular criminal justice system. Rather, there are many individual systems working in concert. How they work depends on the jurisdiction in charge: whether it is a city, county, state, federal, tribal government or military installation. Laws, agencies and proceedings can vary among jurisdictions. To complicate matters, criminal justice operates at both the state and federal levels, depending on the location of the crime.
As you can imagine, all of these sectors of criminal justice rely on professionals dedicated to making an impact in their corner of the world. Keep reading to learn more about the professionals working across the criminal justice field.
Professionals working in criminal justice
Many professionals are needed to work across the various areas of the criminal justice field. Learn more about all of the individuals employed within the criminal justice system working to uphold the law, protect citizens and create a just world.
Law enforcement careers
In law enforcement, officers patrol and report any criminal activity they observe in their area. They arrest offenders, investigate crimes, gather evidence and provide testimony in court. Hernandez notes the following common law enforcement positions:
- Police officers
- Police investigators
- Police detectives
- Federal agents
Prosecution and defense careers
Prosecutors, at both the state and federal levels, are lawyers who review evidence and determine whether to file charges against an individual. They bring cases to court, where they present evidence, question witnesses and, above all, carry the burden of proof in their quest for a conviction.
Defense lawyers are on the opposite side of the courtroom, representing defendants who have been charged with a crime. These lawyers ensure their clients receive adequate representation throughout the court proceedings. While prosecutors represent the government, defense attorneys represent those who are facing criminal charges.
There are many types of lawyers on both the prosecution and defense sides, including:
- City attorneys
- District attorneys
- Attorneys general
- United States attorneys
- County public defenders
- Alternate public defenders
- Federal defenders
Beyond lawyers, many other professionals work within the court system to help lead and support legal proceedings. These positions include the following:
- Court clerks
- Court reporters
- Court officers
- Process servers
- Victim advocates
- Witness coordinators
“Corrections” is the term used to describe the network of agencies overseeing incarcerated individuals and those in rehabilitation, parole or probation. Depending on the severity of the offense and the criminal’s history, individuals may be sent to jails or prisons, or they may receive some other form of punitive measures.
In less-severe cases, offenders may receive probation in lieu of serving jail time, which includes regular check-ins with their probation officer and they may be ordered to pay a fine or serve community service hours. Some felons may be released from prison and placed on parole in order to serve the remainder of their sentence closely supervised in their community.
There are several professionals who dedicate their careers to the corrections branch of criminal justice, where they help oversee and reform convicted offenders. This includes the following positions:
- Corrections officers
- Probation officers
- Parole officers
- Rehabilitation specialists
- Corrections counselors
Criminal justice impacts everyone
So, what is criminal justice, exactly? It’s not just about law enforcement. It’s an entire sprawling system overseeing unlawful activity, imposing penalties on those who violate the law, and working to ensure they don’t reoffend.
The criminal justice field relies on dedicated professionals across all branches, from law enforcement to offender rehabilitation. Criminal justice professionals enforce and uphold the law—and it takes a passionate and valiant person to step up to this level of responsibility.
If you feel a calling to pursue a rewarding career in criminal justice, visit the Brandman University criminal justice degree page to learn more about the path to fulfilling your purpose.
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