Criminology vs Criminal Justice Degree

Criminology and criminal justice are two very closely related fields, so much so, in fact, that many struggle to see what the difference between the two are. In fact, in a recent survey, 50% of students at the police academy said they were studying criminal justice, while the other 50% said criminology! In reality, however, there is a difference between the two, and if this is a field that interests you, then you need to know the difference.

What Is the Difference?

Very simply put, the study of criminology looks into a crime’s anatomy – what caused it, what its consequences were, and what it costs. Criminal justice, by contrast, is the study of the system that exist around crimes – crime detection, detention of offenders, prosecution, and criminal punishment. Law enforcement and criminal justice almost always go hand in hand, whereas criminology deals with a far wider field. Together, criminology and criminal justice graduates help to stop crime. Let’s look at this concept in greater detail.

Understanding Criminology

The field of criminology is made up of three key subdivisions:

  1. Penology, which studies the prison system as a whole, different prisons, and jails
  2. Feminist criminology, which studies how women are linked to crime
  3. Biocriminology, which looks at criminal behavior from a biological perspective

There are many specialties within those three main categories, however, which is why it can be difficult to properly define what standard criminologists actually do. It all depends on what they studied, where they work, and how much experience they have. Generally, they will do certain things, such as:

  • Interrogating and interviewing suspects
  • Investigating crime scenes
  • Profiling criminals
  • Taking part in autopsies

What sets it apart is that criminology is very much research and consultancy based. Usually, criminologists will be brought in by law enforcement agencies or private companies in order to study a specific element of a crime or event. They also often have to appear in court as an expert witness. Some work within the penitentiary system, focusing on reducing levels of recidivism.

Generally speaking, all criminologists, regardless of their personal specialization, will profile criminals and collect data. They are a type of analyst, in other words. They look at crimes and find data associated with that, which they then assess to come up with things that law enforcement professionals can act upon. They help in the identification of criminals, in understanding when a crime was committed, and perhaps most importantly, understand the reasons behind a crime. To do this, they look at environmental factors, economic and socioeconomic indicators, and psychological behavior.

Sometimes, criminologists will work on a very high profile case. When this happens, they also have a public facing role as they communicate with media personnel. It is also very common for criminologists to write books about their experiences, in an effort to help others learn. It is a lonely job, as criminologists mainly work independently. It isn’t until they have completed their analysis of all the available data that they will liaise directly with law enforcement to make actionable recommendations. After which, their job in that particular case will have been completed, and they start all over again with the next case.

To be a good criminologist, you must:

  • Have an excellent eye for detail
  • Have strong analytical skills
  • Be very accurate and precise
  • Have an advanced understanding of math and statistics

Criminologists also tend to be very high educated. In fact, many have a doctorate degree, which enables them to further research different crimes and scenarios. A master’s degree is the minimum requirement for someone to work as a criminologist. A degree is not all that is necessary to be successful, however. Criminologists have to be intelligent, dedicated, truly good at what they do, and have a true desire to make the world a better place. They are creative, excellent communicators, and very analytical.

Understanding Criminal Justice

Criminology, as indicated above, focuses on analyzing and studying crime. Criminal justice, on the other hand, focuses on the various systems in society that prevent and address criminal behaviors, and look at those who commit crimes. Just as with criminology, there are three main components of criminal justice, which are:

  1. Law enforcement
  2. The legal court system
  3. The correctional system

Put together, these three elements are in place to prevent and deter crime, and to punish criminals when they are not deterred. Any career within the criminal justice system tends to be part of one of those three categories.

Perhaps the best known criminal justice career is that of the police officer. Police officers are there to protect society from criminals. They are present within the community, preventing crime and taking action when they do occur by apprehending suspects. However, there are many other types of front line law enforcement professionals, such as US marshals, border patrol agents, ICE agents, DEA agents, and FBI agents.

Once those who are working in law enforcement have done their work, the courts system becomes involved. This is a much less visible, but equally important, element of the overall criminal justice system. The courts are there to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent of a particular crime. A range of different criminal justice professionals make up the court system, including bailiffs, judges, and attorneys. By law, someone is considered innocent until proven guilty. Those who are proven guilty, however, are then sentenced to imprisonment, which means they move on to the corrections system.

The third element of criminal justice is the corrections system. Here, professionals ensure that people who have been sentenced will truly serve their sentence. This is made up of three elements, which are:

  1. Incarceration
  2. Probation
  3. Parole

Some of the most common careers in this the corrections system include prison guard, prison warden, parole officer, and probation officer.

The criminal justice system, as you can see, is incredibly wide and varied. This is also reflected in criminal justice degrees, where people can take elective courses to specialized their knowledge. That being said, certain careers have been found to be more popular than others within the field of criminal justice, and these are:

  • Conservation officer
  • Sheriff (county or deputy)
  • Immigration officer
  • State trooper
  • Parole officer
  • Federal air marshal
  • Corrections counselor
  • Probation officer
  • Paralegal
  • Court clerk
  • Bailiff

Misconceptions and Why People Get the Difference Wrong

When looking at the information above, the difference between criminology and criminal justice becomes abundantly clear. Criminology is about analyzing, interpreting, and understanding crimes and its motives. Criminal justice is about using a system to deter, prevent, and punish crime.

So why do people continue to find it difficult to tell the two specializations apart? The main reason for that is that criminologists and criminal justice professionals work very closely together, supporting each other to perform their jobs properly. A major way to tell the difference, however, is that criminologists are referred to as a criminologists, while a criminal justice professional will be referred to themselves as an FBI agent, a judge, a correctional officer, etc.

If you are considering a career in either criminology or criminal justice, it is important that you have a good understanding of the difference between the two. Spend some time researching the various degree programs so that you can find the one that best suits your personal needs and interests. Either way, a varied and dynamic career will await you.