Criminal Justice vs Criminology

Find yourself wondering: Criminal Justice vs Criminology – What are the differences?

The pursuits of work in the justice system and criminology share many similar requirements and subjects. Degrees in these fields will equip you to serve people affected by the lawless actions of others and those wrongly accused of these acts, understand why such conduct occurs and how society can reduce the incidents of illegal activity. Yet, the themes and, consequently, the approaches employed in these fields differ significantly. The divergence shapes how you earn and use these degrees.

In this guide, we will go over exactly what Criminal Justice and Criminology are, their differences, and common career paths for each. Let’s begin!


What is a Criminal Justice Degree?

This degree encompasses the study of the process from investigation of crimes through corrections. Aspiring majors in this field learn about the operation and organization of law enforcement agencies, actors in the judicial system (prosecutors, defendants, defense attorneys, witnesses and other court personnel); and prisons, probation officers and others that comprise corrections.

Depending on where you attend, your degree may come with a concentration in some particular aspect of criminal law or the justice system. For instance, a crime scene concentration may focus upon methods of collecting and preserving evidence. Other justice degree holders may direct their studies and careers in corrections, including community-based punishments and other alternatives to incarceration. Homeland security as a degree concentration has blossomed especially in the last ten to 20 years with increased awareness of terrorist incidents and threats.

Degrees in this field come from the bachelor, masters and doctorate ranks. If you pursue a master’s or a PhD, you may concentrate intensely in a specific field such as cybersecurity, homeland security or corrections. The degree program has a strong influence of the social sciences such as phychology, political science and sociology.


What is a Criminology Degree?

Psychology and sociology feature prominently in a criminology degree. Rather than covering the components of the justice system, a degree in criminology pivots around the larger influences of criminal activity. In particular, criminologists have learned how to analyze the societal, economic, biological and other factors that drive criminal behavior.

While specific subgroups of criminology differ by university, common ones include, but are not limited to, biocriminology, peneology and feminist criminology. In biocriminology, you’ll examine how biology affects behavior. Students in penology concentrate on the prison and corrections systems, delving into matters such as how or why the prison environment fosters recidivism.

Feminist criminology explores women’s issues and factors related to crime. These may include domestic violence and sexual assaults. In fact, feminist criminology may overlaps somewhat with another subset of criminology known as victimology. In this arena lies the examination of victims of crime. If your degree concentrates on victimology, you explore how criminal behavior affects its victims and whether the behavior of the victim might contribute to particular incidents.


How Does the Curriculum Differ?

In many aspects, the curriculum of these criminal-based programs share many similarities, especially as to the foundational requirements. Students can expect significant social sciences classes, including political science and psychology. Classes will also include legal systems, constitutional law, criminal law and classes addressing race, gender and economic or social groups. Some colleges even include American history and economics in the list of prerequisites.

Much of the difference comes in electives and emphasis of the curriculum. A criminal justice curriculum features a focus on the specifics of the justice system. Depending on what college or university you attend, you might have classes in the administration of law enforcement agencies, juvenile justice, police tactics and evidence. Many degree programs require you to engage in an internship with a police department, sheriff’s office, court office or corrections agency.

With respect to criminology, you will pay particular attention to principles of advanced sociology, psychology and the scientific methods employed in these disciplines. Representative courses in a criminology program include social disparities, methods of research and analysis, social problems and statistics. Taking statistics courses helps you as an aspiring criminologist conduct surveys and studies and analyze the data to render reliable conclusions.

While both programs allow degree candidates to touch upon, sociology, the discipline is more pronounced in criminology. Sociology tracks take criminology majors into courses such as the social reasons for deviant behavior, sociology from the perspective of the child or family and neighborhoods. An internship with law enforcement or in a criminology department afford students practical work experience in developing studies, surveys and profiles of criminals.


Different Focus

Studying the justice system concentrates upon the system and process by which accused persons face prosecution and punishment for criminal conduct.

As such, a graduate in this field may choose jobs in police, sheriff or investigative agencies; the legal profession, courts and correctional agencies.

Due to the breadth of technology and international reach of many organizations, justice system jobs involve professionals investigating and fighting a broad array of criminal behavior and enterprises. These include trafficking in illegal drugs, identity theft, cyber attacks and terrorism.

Criminology gears its efforts toward research into the causes of criminal behavior. Those with professions in this area gather and analyze information and data on broader psychological, biological and societal influences rather than specific items of evidence or incidents.

Even with the different job goals, a graduate of either program must master critical thinking. Detectives and investigators must closely observe clues, interview witnesses or suspects, analyze the information and draw conclusions about credibility or suspects. Criminologists also rely on critical thinking to make sense of statistics about the age, race, economic status and other identifying characteristics of victims and perpetrators and correlate or correspond criminal activity to various social, environmental and economic conditions.


What Are Common Career Paths for Criminal Justice Majors?

With its emphasis on the operation of the justice system, this type of major produces professionals such as:

  • Police officers
  • Sheriff’s deputies
  • Detectives
  • Bailiffs
  • Parole, probation or other corrections officers
  • Courtroom clerks and recorders
  • FBI agents, immigration officers and other enforcement agents in the federal government
  • State highway patrol officers
  • Juvenile court counselor

You can also use this major as a springboard to become a paralegal or to pursue law school and a calling as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney or judge. In the federal court system, prosecutors and judges are appointed. Many state judicial systems have elected prosecutors and judges.

Many of these professionals populate local, state and federal agencies. They investigate and gather evidence, apprehend suspects and prosecute defendants. Defense attorneys assist these defendants with contesting the charges, ensuring protection of constitutional rights and alleviating the punishment and other consequences of criminal conduct. Judges act as referees, ruling on matters such as the adequacy and admissibility of evidence and determining if legal standards have been satisfied.


What Are Common Career Paths for Criminology Majors?

From criminology degrees come opportunities geared more toward research and academia.

Professionals work as sociologists for colleges, universities, policy “think tanks” and non-profit organizations devoted to alleviating unlawful behavior and its social and psychological causes. In academic settings, criminologists teach and conduct research projects.

Criminology does not exclude itself from the realm of federal, state or local police bureaus. In the Federal Bureau of Investigation and larger police departments, criminologists help profile the type of perpetrator in a particular case. They may accompany investigators to scenes to examine whether, for example, blood patterns or other evidence match a particular motive or type of criminal. Criminologists may examine how certain terrorists become radicalized or conditioned to commit terrorist acts.

Whatever be the specific work setting, criminologists take a broader view of criminal behavior to examine causes for deviant behavior and, within victimology, the lasting effects of criminal behavior on its victims.