Criminal Jusitce Programs

What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal Justice is an exciting and rewarding field to enter into. The field is focused on the policies and practices implemented with the principal of goal being to deter the commission of crimes and mitigate the damage caused by criminal acts. The secondary goals of the criminal justice system are to apprehend and punish those who break the law and then attempt to rehabilitate those individuals so that they can successfully reenter society upon release.

Many people who enter this field choose not to attend college, to attend a four-year university, or to pursue a Master’s Degree; however, some decide to gain as much education and knowledge as possible through earning a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) Degree.

What is a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD)?

Individuals who choose to pursue a PhD in criminal justice can expect many of the same duties and requirements as seen in any other academic discipline. The Doctorate of Philosophy is essentially meant to be a degree that represents extensive coursework and research in a subject, which is often the requirement for positions as either a researcher or instructor in most post-secondary institutions. It typically takes a student three years after completion of a Bachelor’s Degree to earn a PhD.

Earning a PhD: The Process

Preparing and Getting Accepted

The first step toward earning a PhD is covering the educational and work-related prerequisites. All PhD programs require that applicants have completed a Bachelor’s Degree in a related field and have maintained a certain minimum grade point average. From there, many programs also require that interested individuals also complete a Master’s Degree program before applying to the PhD program. However, there are a large number of programs that offer joint Master’s and PhD programs or allow students to bypass the Master’s program completely.

Once these requirements are covered, it is time to consider the PhD qualifying exams. These exams are present in every field and are almost always a requirement for entrance into a graduate program. The tests have no set format and are usually customized by each institution and department. The exams usually cover entire fields as subject matter. Upon successful completion of the qualifying exams the student will automatically be classified as a PhD candidate and will be able to begin course work as well as work on the dissertation.

Course Work for a Criminal Justice PhD Program

The course work for a criminal justice PhD program typically consists of an interdisciplinary approach that combines the studies of theory, normative analysis, and research methods. To be successful in this course work it is recommended that students possess very strong skills in written and verbal communication, as well as a firm understanding of advanced statistical methods and computer science principles.

In some cases it is necessary to either master a high profile foreign language or to spend time in a foreign country completing course work. Course work is typically completed in written form; work will often be submitted in one, long written work each semester.

The subject matter covered can be broken into two major sections: the core curriculum and specialized course work. The core curriculum consists of courses that will be required of every student in the program or department. Usual classes for this category are social science methods, research design, statistics, and information retrieval; it is also common to see classes such as criminal law, criminal procedure, and court systems in the core curriculum. These classes are designed to give students a strong foundation in the field and the techniques and practices used therein.

The specialized course work for criminal justice programs is largely dictated by the student and his or her chosen concentration or research area. Common coursework in this category would include concentrations or individual courses such as:

  • Victimology
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Criminological Theory
  • Police Science
  • Public Policy Analysis
  • Criminal Justice psychology

The Dissertation

A dissertation is a written document that is completed by PhD students during their time as a PhD candidate. The documents are typically very long, commonly over 300 pages. However, the dissertation is not only lengthy, but it must also be of very high quality and must prove that the candidate in question has completed a significant amount of new, fresh research. For this reason it usually takes two to three years of full-time research and writing to complete an adequate dissertation. The dissertation is also written in addition to coursework that is being completed at the same time.

Completing the Degree

The first major hurdle for PhD students is the comprehensive exams. These exams are similar to the qualifying exams in that they often cover entire fields of study, but they are much more difficult. The exams are given in an oral format by a board of professors that have already received their PhD’s. Students often spend anywhere from a few months to years preparing for these lengthy and grueling exams.

Lastly, after completing the dissertation that represents the individual’s entire work during PhD candidacy, it is time to submit the rough draft for reviews by professors. The professor will offer feedback on the draft and allow for the student to complete any last corrections or changes before the dissertation defense begins.

During the dissertation defense, PhD candidates are required to answer and explain any questions that overseeing professors have pertaining to their research. This process is often less difficult than the comprehensive exams because the professors overseeing the defense are often the same ones that the student has been conducting the research with.

Schools that Offer PhD Degrees

A number of schools offer PhD programs in criminal justice. Some of the most prestigious are mentioned here along with their contact information. There are many names and concentrations related to criminal justice.

Some universities have a specific criminal justice program that offers pure criminal justice degrees. However, many institutions offer criminal justice degrees in conjunction with other departments; an example would be a degree in sociology with a concentration in criminal justice. In addition, some institutions offer degrees such as psychology and criminal justice as well.

All of these degree options are accepted by the majority of working fields; if you are pursuing a career in academia then you should ensure that the degree is academically respected as a criminal justice degree before applying.


Online universities have gained a great deal of justifiable popularity in recent years. They offer a high level education to students who would like to learn from the comfort of their own home. Here are the most respected online institutions:

Capella University

Walden University

University of the Rockies

North Central University

On Campus

On-campus institutions are the more common universities. They offer degrees to students who prefer to be able to visit the library or communicate with their professors in person. Following are some of the best known universities offering PhDs in criminal justice:

Arizona State University, School of Justice Studies
Location: Tempe, AZ 85287

Univ. of California-Irvine, Program in Social Ecology
Location: Irvine, CA 92717

University of Cincinnati, Dept. of Criminal Justice
Location: Cincinnati, OH 45221

Claremont Graduate School, Center for Politics and Policy
Location: Claremont, CA 91711

Florida State University, School of Criminology
Location: Tallahassee, FL 32306

George Mason University, Justice, Law and Crime Policy
Location: Arlington, VA 22201

University of Illinois-Chicago, Dept. of CJ, 1007 W. Harrison
Location: Chicago, IL 60607

Indiana University, Dept. of CJ
Location: Bloomington, IN 47405

Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Criminology
Location: Indiana, PA 15705

John Jay College of CJ (CUNY), 899 Tenth Ave
Location: New York, NY 10019

University of Delaware, Dept. of Sociology and CJ
Location: Newark, DE 19716

University of Maryland, Dept. of Criminology and CJ
Location: College Park, MD 20742

Michigan State University., School of CJ
Location: East Lansing, MI 48824

Career Outlook for Individuals with a PhD in Criminal Justice

Individuals who have earned a PhD in criminal justice will be presented with a variety of job opportunities upon graduation. The most popular choice for this field is teaching and performing research in post-secondary institutions. However, some choose to pursue a career in management or as a researcher or investigator in the employ the local, state, or federal government.

Individuals who choose to take a position as a professor or researcher in a college or university will truly have their choice in positions. The number of people who have PhD’s in criminal justice simply does not come close to the number of people needed and the gap is growing wider due to the fact that the number of people receiving a PhD in the field each year is only in the double digits.

People who choose these jobs will have choices as to what research they would like to conduct and when and where they would like to teach. These individuals will also be able to choose amount of each type of work that they would like to conduct. Professors’ and researchers’ salaries vary by institution and location but the average is around $75,000 annually with many earning more than six figures.

Many PhD holders choose to pursue a career in law enforcement. The most common employer is with the federal government, with the state government being close behind. Positions in these fields can include careers as detectives or investigators, as well as in management positions, but it is much more common for PhD holders to enter into research or policy change and analysis. Individuals in this field commonly earn around $60,000 annually with experienced professionals earning more than $120,000 each year.

Top Ranked Doctoral Programs

Search For Other Great Programs

Share Your Thoughts