Criminal Justice

If you are interested in pursuing a degree or finding a job in the field of criminal justice, everything you need is here. Find the best schools, career information, history of the discipline, influential people in the field, great books, and more.

Criminal Justice

What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal Justice is the discipline relating to law enforcement, corrections, and the courts. A degree in criminal justice is a good starting point for those who intend to pursue careers in areas such as policing, law, administration of justice, counter-terrorism, and more. Criminal justice is a versatile degree that can lead to opportunities in a wide range of settings both in the private sector and at the local, state, national, and even international level.

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The Best Colleges and Universities for Criminal Justice Degrees

Best Criminal Justice Major Research Universities

  1. University of Florida
  2. University of Washington
  3. Boston University
  4. Florida State University
  5. Boston College

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Best Criminal Justice Major Liberal Arts Colleges

  1. John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  2. College of the Ozarks
  3. Southern University at New Orleans
  4. San Francisco State University
  5. California State University, Long Beach

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Best Criminal Justice Major Online Colleges

  1. Florida State University
  2. Sam Houston State University
  3. University of Cincinnati
  4. Portland State University
  5. University of Central Florida

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To view the entire list of top criminal justice schools, including schools offering online degrees and a breakdown of the best criminal justice colleges and universities in your state, visit our look at the Best Colleges and Universities for Criminal Justice Degrees.

For a dynamic, real-time listing of the most influential criminal justice schools in the world, use our Custom College Ranking.

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The Best Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Criminal justice is a versatile field. Your professional options will depend on your level of degree completion as well as your area of concentration within. Fortunately, it is now possible to earn an online criminal justice degree at any level, and in nearly any area of concentration. For more, take a look at these online degrees in criminal justice and related areas.

Related Degrees

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Criminal Justice Degrees

What Will I Study as a Criminal Justice Major?

As a criminal justice major, your study will emphasize three primary subject areas—law enforcement, corrections, and the courts—as well as related subjects including criminal psychology, rehabilitation, and sociology. A degree in criminal justice will give you a foundational understanding of public safety, emergency management, Constitutional law, and a host of other related subjects. .

What Can I Do With a Degree in Criminal Justice?

With a degree in criminal justice, you could qualify for an array of opportunities in law enforcement, security, forensics, counter-terrorism, corrections, and much more. Common career paths for criminal justice degree holders include law enforcement, private investigators, and correctional officers. And if you’re interested in eventually going to law school and becoming a practicing attorney, majoring in criminal justice could be a good starting point.

How To Get a Degree in Criminal Justice

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Who are the Top Criminal Justice influencers in history?

The formal study of criminal behavior in relation to law enforcement, incarceration, and social patterns is largely rooted in the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore, the majority of influencers who helped to establish this as both a field of academic inquiry and an educational program for those in pursuit of careers in criminal justice are generally concentrated in this period. Using the historical parameters of 1800 to 2020, the following figures ranked as the most influential in the criminal justice discipline

  1. Cesare Lombroso was an Italian criminologist, phrenologist, physician, and founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology who rejected the established classical school, which held that crime was a characteristic trait of human nature.
  2. Jock Young was a British sociologist and an influential criminologist whose ethnographic research on drug use in Notting Hill, West London led him to develop the concept of moral panic.
  3. Edwin Sutherland was an American sociologist from the interactionist school of thought and is best known for defining white-collar crime and differential association, a general theory of crime and delinquency.
  4. Eliot Ness was an American Prohibition agent and leader of a famous team of law enforcement agents from Chicago, nicknamed The Untouchables, best known for his efforts to bring down Al Capone and enforce Prohibition in Chicago.
  5. Freda Adler is a criminologist and educator, currently serving as Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University and a visiting Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
  6. Paul L. Kirk was a biochemist, criminalist and participant in the Manhattan Project who specialized in microscopy.
  7. Ernest Burgess was a Canadian-American urban sociologist, an urban sociologist at the University of Chicago, and 24th President of the American Sociological Association.
  8. Travis Hirschi was an American sociologist and an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Arizona who helped to develop the modern version of the social control theory of crime.
  9. Robert Ressler was an FBI agent and author who played a significant role in the psychological profiling of violent offenders in the 1970s and is often credited with coining the term “serial killer.”
  10. James Q. Wilson was an American conservative academic, political scientist, and an authority on public administration who spent most of his career as a professor at UCLA and Harvard University.

Now that you have a bird’s eye view of some of the most influential criminal justice influencers of all time, explore these pioneers and others in more depth

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Who are the top criminal justice influencers today?

The following are the top criminal justice influencers in the field today according to our machine-powered Influence Rankings, which are drawn from a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.

  1. Lawrence W. Sherman has conducted extensive research into restorative justice, experimental criminology, and crime prevention, and his work has demonstrated how social science can be instrumental at the core of badly needed police reforms.
  2. David Weisburd currently holds joint appointments as the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law in Jerusalem, Executive Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy, and Distinguished Professor at George Mason University, and has conducted meaningful research into white-collar crime, as well as the micro-geography of crime.
  3. Christopher Uggen served as University of Minnesota Sociology Department chair from 2006-2012 and is best known for his work researching felon disenfranchisement and employment and crime.
  4. Jerzy Sarnecki is a professor of criminology at Stockholm University and a researcher of juvenile delinquency for the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
  5. Richard Rosenfeld is on the Science Advisory Board of the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, has been the Criminologist in Residence with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department since 2012, he has conducted research on crime control, criminal justice policy, the social sources of crime and the statistical trends of criminal justice in the United States.
  6. Kevin Beaver is the Judith Rich Harris Professor of Criminology at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, director of the FSU Distance Learning Program, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Drug Issues, and an expert in biosocial criminology.
  7. Lorraine Mazerolle is chief investigator for the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Experimental Criminology, affiliate professor at the Institute for Social Science Research, professor at the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland, and an expert in the areas of drug law enforcement, experimental criminology, policing and crime prevention.
  8. Paul Rock is an Emeritus Professor of Social Institutions at the London School of Economics, a founder and member of the National Deviancy Conference, and is best known as a professional scholar of public criminology.
  9. Daniel Nagin is the Teresa H. John Heinz III University Professor of Public Policy and Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, a statistician and criminologist who is best known for his research into the deterrence effect of criminal punishments, especially capital punishment.
  10. Daniel Mears is the Mark C. Stafford Professor of Criminology at the Florida State University College of Criminology & Criminal Justice, and a fellow of the American Society of Criminology whose research has explored criminal justice policy involving juveniles, immigrants, and supermax prisons.

Learn about other top criminal justice influencers.

Interviews with Top Thinkers in Criminal Justice

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Great Books About Criminal Justice

The following are the most influential books in the field of Criminal Justice today according to our backstage Ranking Analytics tool, which calculates the influence of various sources in both academics and popular culture using a numerical scoring of citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, and an ever-growing body of data.

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander argues that the laws passed during the 1980s and 1990s under the guise of a “war on drugs” and being “tough on crime” constituted an intentional effort to control black males—a continuation of Jim Crow–era segregation by other means.
  2. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces by Radley Balko investigates the development of America’s urban police forces over the past few decades into highly armed, paramilitary organizations, which are alienated from the populations they are pledged to serve and protect.
  3. Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman is a modern-classic memoir about the American prison system as seen by a rebellious young woman from a middle-class background who served a year in a federal women’s penitentiary for transporting drugs and laundered cash in her luggage on several trips to Asia and Europe.
  4. Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire by Robert Perkinson studies the Texas prison system from the point of view of its impact on other prison systems throughout the country.
  5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a pathbreaking classic, which almost single-handedly invented the genre of the “nonfiction novel”—journalistic reportage written with the pacing, point of view, and narrative arc of literary fiction.
  6. This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial by Helen Garner is a meticulous account of a real murder trial that occurred in Australia, in which a father was accused of having murdered his three young sons by driving the car containing them into a reservoir.
  7. Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District by Peter Moskos is a memoir of the author’s time in the police academy and on the beat, describing life on the streets from both points of view—that of the cops themselves and that of the population mired in poverty and crime that the police are sworn to serve.
  8. Live from Death Row by Mumia Abu-Jamal depicts the cruelty and despair endemic to America’s prison system, in general, and death row, in particular, and decries the inherent injustice of the US system of jurisprudence due to what he maintains is its institutionalized racism.
  9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a marvelously astute psychological study of the mind of a poor university student, Raskolnikov, who convinces himself he has the “right” to rob and murder an old moneylender because he will make better use of the money than she will.
  10. The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town by John Grisham is a work of true-crime reportage describing an erstwhile small-town hero fallen on hard times, who is made the scapegoat by the local powers that be for a lurid murder he did not commit.

Learn about more great books about criminal justice.

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Criminal Justice Controversial Topics

The field of criminal justice is deeply prone to controversy. As an aspect of society that invokes issues of power, disenfranchisement and inequality as well as issues of public safety, civil order, and correctional rehabilitation, criminal justice generates a wide range of competing views. Often, these views provoke heated debate with real consequences in the everyday lives of Americans. Read on for a look at some of the top controversies connected to the criminal justice discipline.

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Feature Topics in Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice is a dynamic field where new findings, achievements and innovations continue to have a profound impact on the real world. Our features emphasize the individuals and innovations driving the criminal justice discipline forward today.