It takes a special person to work in the field of law enforcement. Keeping people safe and responding in emergencies require people to sacrifice time with their family and put themselves in the line of fire on a daily basis.

Working in law enforcement can be rewarding, from the altruistic aspect, but also in terms of career advancement. Schools with criminal justice programs want to help individuals who envision a lifelong career in law enforcement to get the career training they need to move up the ranks.

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Criminal justice careers aren’t as glamorous as they look on TV. In real life, crimes go unsolved, operations get botched, and there’s more paper getting pushed around than perps.

But sometimes the puzzle pieces fall perfectly into place and the outcome is even more exciting than an episode of “CSI” – like the recent bin Laden raid.

If watching the news these days makes you want to jump into the field of justice, you’re in luck. The successful operation in Pakistan and the years of hard work leading up to it reveal clues about what you need to succeed in a criminal justice career.

Patience. On TV, the cops get the bad guys and justice is served. Mission accomplished. In real life… not so much. Think about all the people involved in the hunt for bin Laden – the NSA, the CIA, the DOD, etc., etc. From intelligence officers to military strategists to ground combatants, this mission took more of a toll than anyone thought possible. Ten years is a long time to wait for justice to be served.

Critical thinking. Which brings us to an essential question, particularly if you’re considering a criminal justice career: What is justice? No, it’s not a trick question – and there’s no easy answer. A great deal of criminal justice work requires that you analyze a variety of scenarios and solutions, since dealing with naturally unpredictable human beings is not a black-and-white affair. While many Americans are celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, for example, a friend of mine who works as a New York City police officer for counterterrorism doesn’t see the killing of bin Laden as a good thing, given the prospect of an al Qaeda retaliation. In real life, killing the bad guy doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems. How will you handle that reality?

Perseverance. In just about any career, you’ve got to start at the bottom, and criminal justice is no exception. So if you’ve got your heart set on becoming a detective or working undercover, plan on spending some time as a patrol officer first. You’ll need law enforcement experience as well as a degree in criminal justice or a related field if you want to advance to the coveted professions, particularly those at the federal level. I guarantee that those behind the final bin Laden operation were not rookies.

Technological know-how. As InformationWeek editor John Foley put it, “A bullet killed Osama bin Laden, but U.S. intelligence is what did him in.” You need to know your way around a computer in just about any criminal justice career, and the techie stakes are especially high when you’re working in intelligence or counterterrorism. New surveillance technologies and IT architectures facilitate information sharing, and you’ve got to be savvy enough to utilize the technology effectively. When you enroll in a criminal justice degree program, you can get hands-on training with relevant technology to help you stay competitive in the field.

If you’re just getting started in a criminal justice career, chances are you won’t be involved in such a high-profile operation as the Osama bin Laden mission. Still, you can be a pivotal player in safeguarding the freedom of your community and your country. Do you have what it takes to succeed in a criminal justice career?

-Robyn Tellefsen

If you are interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement, consider a job as a corrections officer. The duties of a corrections officer including maintaining order among jailed inmates and enforcing set rules and regulations to maintain safety and security for all.

What does a corrections officer do?
Corrections officers supervise those who have been arrested for a crime and must wait for their trial date while being held in a jail, penitentiary, or reformatory institution. Corrections officers, sometimes known as detention officers, jailers, or correctional officers, work to maintain security within a prison or jail. The duties of a corrections officer are learned through on-the-job training, though some individuals do pursue degrees in criminal justice in order to be promoted to supervisor positions.

Corrections officers preserve order and safety among the inmate population by ensuring the prisoners are following the rules at all times. Corrections officers also supervise inmates as they complete their individual work assignments. As a corrections officer, you are required to provide written and oral reports to your superiors detailing the conduct of the inmates in your jurisdiction.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jails on the local level admit and process approximately 12 million people per year, with around 700,000 individuals residing within the walls of the correctional facility on any given day. At the state and federal levels, correctional facilities are in charge of an average over 1.5 million prisoners.

How much do corrections officers get paid and what kinds of corrections officer jobs can I get?
According to a 2006 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of corrections officers was $35,760. Some earn as low as $23,600 while some earn above $58,580. The salary of a corrections officer is dependent on the level of the correctional facility, with federal prisons paying the highest wages and local prisons paying the lowest. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that those in supervisory positions at correctional facilities earn a median annual salary of about $52,000.

More than half of corrections officers were hired by prisons, prison camps, and youth correctional facilities, states the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also predicts that the demand for corrections officers will increase by 16 percent by 2016. The demand is determined by both population growth and increasing incarceration rates. It is important to remember that incarceration rates are not always due to increased criminal activity, but that harsher sentencing guidelines now require more jail time for convicted individuals with fewer parole options. As a result, employment opportunities for corrections officers in both public and private correctional facilities will remain good.



No, it’s not a bird, a plane, or a bad slogan to a new Sci-Fi channel “Heroes” ripoff. It’s actually the top three career goals as cited by users. Well, if you minus the metaphor, it means programs in aviation, criminal justice, and massage/wellness programs garnered the most requests for information at thus far in ’07.

The top 5 specific programs were:

  • Airframe and Powerplant Technology
  • Cosmetology
  • Aviation Maintenance Technology
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant
  • Massage Therapy

What do these fields have in common? Well, for one thing, they are all industries that are penetrable via career education and training. They are also the perfect lead-in for this question…

Q: Isn’t career training for people who just don’t want to go to “real” college?

A: There are many reasons why people choose to pursue career education, and it’s usually centered around having very specific career goals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over the 12-month period ending in spring 2005, 44 percent of adults reported having participated in formal adult educational activities. Reasons cited included:

  • Improving skills they already had
  • Learning new skills to enter a new field
  • Getting or keeping a certificate or license
  • Leveraging their quest for a promotion
  • The bottom line is that career education differs from a traditional university education in several ways, but one main difference is that it isn’t most populated by newly graduated high school seniors. Those who pursue career education do so from a variety of life situations, career goals, and demographic backgrounds.

    Then, of course, is the nature of the learning itself. Career education is very industry-focused, skill-building, hands-on coursework. You can think of it as sort of an “off-the-job” training. On the other hand, traditional college students complete a “core curriculum” of classes aimed to provide a well-rounded education (hence the English literature, philosophy and biology requirements), along with whichever major course of study they choose.

    Naturally, choosing between career schools and traditional colleges and universities will depend on your professional goals. If you want to be a college professor, you’ll need the full-fledged advanced degrees in education. But if you want to fly high, fight bad guys, or ease stress, career education will give you professional wings (or, a red cape, if you prefer).

    So what do you want to be when you grow up?

    Photo: Warner Bros.