What's Criminal Justice?

By Chelsea Levinson - Updated April 19, 2018
Man in prison

Criminal justice is a system used to control crime, enforce laws and punish those who break the law. In the U.S., there is no single, centralized criminal justice system. Instead, criminal justice is broken into many smaller systems at the state and municipal levels. These systems are similar and include the same basic functions.

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Criminal justice is a system designed to control crime, enforce laws and punish those who break the law. A person who commits a crime and is arrested is processed through the criminal justice system.

What Is Criminal Justice Law Enforcement?

The vast majority of criminal justice systems have three main components: law enforcement, the courts and corrections. Each of these has its own separate function. The term “law enforcement” generally refers to police officers. Law enforcement is often the first point of contact for an individual in the criminal justice system. Police officers patrol the community to prevent crimes and report those crimes that are committed within their jurisdiction. They are also in charge of arresting offenders, investigating crimes and gathering evidence for the courts. Law enforcement officers are often called to provide testimony in criminal court cases.

After a police officer arrests an offender who has committed a crime, that person is processed through the court system. Courts are presided over by judges who are responsible for overseeing trials, accepting or rejecting plea deals and doling out sentences.

The final component “corrections” refers to the system that manages sentencing. Corrections officers are in charge of offenders in prisons. They also manage people who are on probation or parole.

What Are Criminal Justice Studies?

Criminal justice studies cover every aspect of crime and the criminal justice system. Many major universities offer criminal justice degrees or programs of study. These programs train students for careers in law enforcement, the courts or corrections. Every town needs law enforcement, so these programs are quite popular. If you are interested in studying criminal justice, do a little research on programs in your area. Due to high demand, there are usually several options available.

For certain criminal justice legal careers, such as becoming a judge, prosecutor or defense attorney, attending law school is necessary.

What Are the Requirements to Become a CIA Agent?

If you are interested in becoming a CIA agent, you will need to meet a few requirements first. You must have bachelor’s degree and at least three years of complex, criminal investigative experience. Further, you should complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP) at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). While completion of this program is not required to apply to be a CIA agent, it’s encouraged. Further, you will eventually have to finish this training if you do become a CIA agent. It makes sense to do the training in advance to increase your chances of being hired.

Note also that prospective CIA agents are thoroughly drug tested, so you cannot have used drugs in the past 12 months.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her J.D. from Cardozo. As a former policy researcher, she has a passion for communicating legal issues to the public. She has created legal and policy content for Vox, Levo, Run For Something and more.

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