What branch of criminal justice is right for you?

Branches of Criminal Justice

The field of criminal justice consist of three distinct but equally important branches of study. These are law enforcement, the court system, and corrections which can be thought of as three separate stages in the justice system. Each branch is unique and distinct with its own necessary skills. When pursuing criminal justice as a field of study and a career it's important to know where you fit and which branch is right for you. Here is a brief overview of each branch highlighting the needed skills for each one.    

Law Enforcement

The ‘first stage’ of criminal justice is law enforcement. The field of law enforcement is commonly thought of as the police force but also includes game wardens, marshals, and postal inspectors. Being in law enforcement requires the following skills:

  • As a law enforcement officer you need to have good judgment and problem solving skills given the many varied situations officers encounter.
  • As you would be working directly with the public the ability to empathize with others is an absolute must.
  • Courage and the ability to take control of often volatile situations.
  • Integrity, trustworthiness, and honesty are key to upholding the law.
  • Being an officer is a team job and good teamwork skills with your fellow officers is key.  

The Court System

The second stage’ of criminal justice is the court system. When majoring in this branch of criminal justice you commonly work in some part of the overall court system. Possible positions include being a parole officer, a bondsman, bailiff, or a probation officer. The following skills are valuable to have:

  • While all criminal justice jobs require a knowledge of the law the court system requires the ability to also research law as needed. For example case history and previous rulings may need to be referenced.
  • Basic computer literacy to access various court records.
  • Well developed quantitative skills in addition to the above mentioned research skills.
  • The ability to interview people to collect statements or needed data.
  • Effective writing and communication skills.


The third stage’ of covers the correctional system and its related fields including state prisons, local jails, parole, and probation of prisoners. Working in corrections involves the following skill set:  

  • As a corrections officer communication skills are essential. The ability to not only verbally communicate but also communicate well in writing. The ability to diplomatic and direct in communication is also key.
  • In corrections no officer works alone so teamwork is an essential skill.
  • The ability to read a situation and react accordingly. Also a certain amount of inventive thinking and open mindedness is required because unusual situations are not uncommon.
  • You have to be decisive and don't second guess yourself as many situations need a fast response.
  • The ability to persevere and learn from mistakes.
  • Selflessness is an essential skill because as a corrections officer you have to successfully manage an environment for the good of all involved parties.
  • And of course dedication and hard work.


As you can see criminal justice offers a wide range of very different but equally fulfilling career opportunities. No matter if you're currently studying criminal justice or thinking of changing your career knowing which branch is right for you is an important early step. As the above shows there is a great variety of jobs available in the industry to fit a wide variety of skill sets. Knowing what you want to do and what position fits you best will allow you to have a career that is both satisfying and allows you to perform to the best of your ability. 

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