When you think of a career in criminal justice, what comes to mind? Many things, most likely, but probably not an exact idea of the salary range. In this article, we'll talk about some of the various jobs and salaries in the criminal justice system and discuss what you can expect from this career path.

First, you should know that a criminal justice salary depends on your education, experience, and field of work, as there are many types of jobs in this area of law. You could, for instance, work as a police officer, detective, attorney, probation officer, or judge.

Each of these jobs has its own set of responsibilities, skill requirements, and potential pay, so your first step is to do your research and understand the job market.

Criminal Justice Education

A degree in criminal justice makes a big difference in your career path, salary, and how long it takes you to get a job. People pursue a criminal justice education because they want to become police officers, lawyers, private investigators, or probation officers, among many other criminal justice jobs.

Most criminal justice degrees take four years to obtain, but it will take more time if you pursue a higher level of schooling. Majors like forensics, information security, psychology, criminology, law, and rehabilitation, offer a wide range of career courses.

There are plenty of criminal justice jobs, and the salary range reflects the diverse requirements for each position. The job market for criminal justice graduates is competitive, but if you are willing to put in the effort, you will find ample opportunities.

Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries

Here we will present some career paths open to criminal justice students, ranking them according to the median wage as provided by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale.

1. Correctional Officers

Correctional officers make sure that prisoners in a detention center are safe and properly secured. They are responsible for maintaining order and discipline amongst the inmates and preventing escape attempts. The duties of correctional officers include conducting searches, patrolling a facility, monitoring inmate activity, and responding to emergencies.

They may work with inmates on anger management, drug rehabilitation, and educational programs. Correctional officers must have strong communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to make quick decisions in stressful situations. They must also be physically fit, as they may need to restrain violent inmates.

The mean annual wage for a correctional officer is $53,420 per year or $25.69 per hour. While this profession bottoms our list of criminal justice wages, there is still room for growth. Correctional officers in the top 10% can expect to earn around $79,340. The top-paying states for these job positions are California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. In California, the mean hourly wage for this position is $39.03, while Texas has the highest employment level, at around 39,000 jobs in this field.

2. Criminologists

Criminologists are social scientists who study the nature, causes, and consequences of criminal behavior. They typically work in law enforcement, corrections, and victim services.

Some criminologists conduct research to develop new theories of crime and criminality, while others apply existing theories to solve practical problems.

Regardless of their focus, all criminologists use scientific methods to collect and analyze data, and the criminal justice salary for this position reflects their education level.

The US median annual wage for criminologists is $49,356 per year.

3. Law Clerks

If you are wondering what you can do with a criminal justice bachelor's degree and what salary you can expect, you should look into a law clerk career.

A law clerk is a professional who provides support to lawyers and judges. Doing legal research and writing legal documents, such as briefs and opinion letters, are just a few of the responsibilities. They may also be in charge of a judge's docket, as well as scheduling hearings and conferences. A law clerk must have excellent research and writing skills, as well as a strong knowledge of the legal system, as they may also be asked to go to hearings and trials to take notes or help lawyers in other ways.

The median criminal justice administration salary law clerks earn annually is $50,750. The top 10% of earners among law clerks earn around $102,080, while the lowest earners are expected to get around $36,520 annually. Judicial law clerks in Connecticut earn the most on average, $37.34 per hour, followed by their peers in Illinois and Washington, with average hourly rates of $35.80 and $35.54, respectively.

4. Paralegals

A paralegal is a professional who helps lawyers by doing research, writing documents, and keeping track of case files. In many ways, paralegals are the backbone of the legal profession, performing essential tasks that keep cases moving forward.

Although the day-to-day duties of a paralegal can vary depending on the type of law being practiced, all paralegals share some common responsibilities. These include conducting research, drafting legal documents, organizing case files, and communicating with clients. That’s why the criminal justice pay for these legal professionals varies greatly. 

To succeed in this demanding field, paralegals must be highly detail-oriented and have strong analytical and communication skills. If you are interested in a career as a paralegal, be prepared to work long hours and handle a great deal of responsibility.

The median wage for paralegals is $56,230 annually, while the top earners can expect an annual wage of about $88,640. The top-paying paralegals work in the District of Columbia, for a mean hourly wage of $40.11.

5. Forensic Science Technicians

The job of a crime scene technician is to document and collect evidence from crime scenes. They collaborate closely with law enforcement to ensure all evidence is collected and preserved properly. Most crime scene technicians have a background in science and have received formal forensic science training. They may be called to testify about their work in court, and their reports may be used as evidence in criminal cases.

The median criminal justice forensics salary is $61,930 annually. The top 10% of earners among forensic science technicians have an annual salary of $103,430, while the lowest 10% can expect an annual salary of $37,670. In California, forensic technicians with a bachelor’s of science in criminal justice have a salary of around $90,300 on average. The Golden State also employs the highest number of technicians in the US.

6. Private Investigators

A private investigator, also known as a private detective, is hired to gather information and conduct investigations outside of the police force. Private investigators typically work for individuals or businesses, although some may also work for the government.

The job of a private investigator is varied and depends on the client’s needs. Therefore, the criminal justice salary per hour for these professionals is determined on a case-by-case basis. Common tasks include conducting background checks, surveillance, interviewing people, and working long hours to get the job done.

The criminal justice salary range for private detectives is wide, with a median of $59,380 per year. The financial investment, securities, and commodity industries are some of the highest paying for these professionals, with an hourly wage of $50.62. The lowest earners in the field take home about $32,130 per year.

7. Police Officers

This is the most common criminal justice job, although its salary isn’t necessarily as low as you might expect. It can reach $102,530 for the top 10% of officers; the job is pretty demanding, after all.

The duties of a police officer vary depending on the size and department, but typically include patrolling assigned areas, responding to emergency calls, investigating crimes, making arrests, and testifying in court.

Many departments require police officers to have some college experience to progress further in the hierarchy, and some may require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Police officers who wish to advance in their careers can do so by taking on additional responsibilities or completing additional education and training.

The median criminal justice salary per year for a police officer in the US is $64,610. California has the highest hourly rate for police officers, at $49.48.

8. FBI Agents

FBI agents are responsible for investigating federal crimes. Common areas of focus include terrorism, espionage, public corruption, and civil rights violations. To be considered for an FBI agent’s position, candidates must have a four-year college degree and at least three years of professional work experience.

They must also pass rigorous physical fitness tests and a background check. Once hired, FBI agents receive training in firearms, self-defense, and interview techniques. They also receive ongoing education in the latest investigative methods and technologies. 

Those who can overcome these challenges can land some of the highest-paying criminal justice jobs and work on some of the highest-profile cases in the country.

Currently, the average base salary for FBI agents is $66,524. The top-paid agents receive around $116,000 per year.

9. Financial Examiners 

Financial examiners typically work in the legal or financial industry to determine the legality of financial transactions. They also work with law enforcement to investigate fraud and other financial crimes.

Financial examiners have strong research and analytical skills, as well as a working knowledge of laws and regulations related to finance.

Financial examiners typically hold at least a bachelor's degree in accounting, finance, or business. Many also hold advanced degrees or certifications in forensic accounting or financial investigation.

So, how much do criminal justice majors make as financial examiners? The median wage is $81,410 per year, while the top 10% earn about twice as much, at $160,850. The Federal Executive Branch pays the highest salaries to these professionals - $132,090 on average.

10. Detectives and Criminal Investigators

A criminal investigator's job is to gather evidence and information to aid in the investigation of crimes. They may work for a police department, private company, or government agency. They usually come from law enforcement or related background.

Many investigators specialize in a particular type of crime, such as fraud or homicide, or a specific field of investigation (e.g., computer forensics).

The median salary for an investigator or detective is $83,640 per year. The salaries for this criminal justice profession go up to $146,830. The state with the highest number of detectives is Texas, and it currently employs around 16,540 of them.

11. Intelligence Analyst

Intelligence analysts are critical members of the criminal justice system, gathering and interpreting data used to solve or predict crimes. Analysts are in charge of conducting research, analyzing data, and preparing reports law enforcement officials can use.

Analysts must have strong analytical skills and the ability to think critically about the information they are reviewing to be successful in this role.

While there is a strong correlation between your criminal justice degree and salary, only 13% of analysts need a higher degree than a bachelor’s. Analysts are mostly employed by the government and receive $83,640 annually or about $40.21 per hour. 

12. Hearing Officers and Judges

The job description, role, and salary of hearing officers and judges vary depending on the level of court and jurisdiction in which they work. In general, hearing officers are responsible for presiding over hearings, making decisions on cases, and ensuring that proceedings run smoothly. 

Judges, on the other hand, preside over trials, issue verdicts, and sentence defendants. Both hearing officers and judges must be knowledgeable in the law and able to remain impartial in their decision-making.

Hearing officers and judges typically earn comfortable criminal justice administration salaries. Higher court judges typically earn more than lower court judges.

Hearing officers and judges typically hold a juris doctor (JD) degree and are licensed to practice law in their state. Besides finishing law school and passing the bar exam - both essential to qualify for the position of a judge - you may also be required to have some years of experience working as an attorney. Most judges are also elected officials, so they may need to campaign for office.

The median criminal justice salary for these officers and officials is $102,550 annually. The federal executive branch and government are the main employers for judges, with the highest-paid ones earning $180,520 per year.

13. Lawyers and Attorneys

Lawyers and attorneys have the highest-paying criminal justice careers in the United States. They play a vital role in the US justice system, providing representation for defendants in criminal cases, and helping to ensure the rights of victims are protected. In addition, attorneys can provide valuable legal advice to individuals and businesses. 

To become a lawyer, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree, then complete three years of law school, and pass the bar exam. After that, you must be sworn in as a lawyer by your state’s bar association.

The vast majority of lawyers and attorneys work in private practice, and their earnings depend on the number of clients they have and the type of work they do. Government lawyers typically earn less than their peers in private practice but often have more job security.

In this sector of criminal justice, the salary amounts to a median of $127,990. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 25% have earnings of $194,580 per year. Lawyers in the District of Columbia earn more than their peers elsewhere in the United States, boasting an annual mean wage of $198,820.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous roles in the criminal justice system that all work together to ensure justice is served. There are many different career paths in the criminal justice field, ranging from police officers and detectives to lawyers and judges.

While some jobs require more education or experience than others, the majority of criminal justice jobs pay well. So, if you're looking for a steady job with good pay, a career in criminal justice might be the right fit for you.

Even entry-level criminal justice jobs come with a salary that can provide plenty of opportunities for ambitious professionals. As you move up the ladder in your chosen career path, you can expect to see a significant increase in your salary.

Criminal justice salaries vary depending on experience, education, and job title, but the field offers a wide range of well-paid positions. So, if you're considering a career in criminal justice, look into the various job titles to see which one is right for you.