Research is the primary tool for advancing a body of knowledge, including the field of criminal justice. Research helps students, scholars, criminal justice professionals and government policy makers identify what works in the areas of law enforcement, corrections, crime prevention and related topics. Learning research in criminal justice helps students think critically and aids in the formulation of criminal justice policies.
Because criminal justice is a branch of the social sciences, research in this field uses the same tools and methods used by researchers in sociology, political science, economics and other social sciences. Undergraduate and graduate programs in criminal justice include among their coursework requirements at least one class in social science research methods. Often, these programs will require students to complete at least one statistics course, as well.
Learning research in criminal justice confers a number of benefits on students. First, learning research methods develops critical thinking and analytical skills. These abilities benefit the student not only educationally and personally, but professionally as well. Knowing how to analyze and make sense of data and information from multiple sources is a valuable skill in the criminal justice field and any profession.
An important link often exists between research and policy-making. Criminal justice researchers attempt to study issues of crime and justice scientifically. They select areas of interest to research, present their studies at conferences, publish their findings in criminology and criminal justice journals, and communicate their research in such a way that law enforcement officials and government policy makers can translate it into more effective anti-crime policy.
Because research can help form policy-making in criminal justice, it is important for professionals in law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice professions to understand research principles and methods. Such knowledge helps them identify quality research and play a more effective role in shaping criminal justice policy. Research helps identify more effective approaches to law enforcement and the administration of justice.
Like most social science research, studies in the field of criminal justice are sometimes tentative and filled with qualifications. Criminal justice research will not identify a “cure” for criminal behavior; rather, many studies will concede their methodological strengths and weaknesses. Learning research in criminal justice helps students become sophisticated consumers of research, helping them identify the strengths of weaknesses of specific studies. This will serve them well as professionals in the field.