Research is the primary tool for advancing any body of knowledge, including the field of criminal justice. Research helps students, scholars, criminal justice professionals and government policymakers identify what works in the areas of law enforcement, corrections and crime prevention.
Learning research in criminal justice helps students think critically and ultimately aids in the formulation of evidence-based criminal justice policies and practices. Solid research skills in the criminal justice profession, especially among those new to the field, can help eliminate the gap between the practice of criminal justice professions and the advancements in knowledge that flow from properly conducted research. As a result, laws and policies should tend to evolve to become more effective and efficient over time.
Types of Research Education in Criminal Justice Programs
Because criminal justice is a branch of the social sciences, research in this field uses the same tools and methods that are utilized 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 require students to complete at least one statistics course, as well.
Benefits to Criminal Justice Students
Learning research in academic criminal justice studies confers a number of benefits to students. First, learning research methods develops critical thinking and analytical skills. Learning to conduct proper research helps instill in students a procedurally and intellectually sound approach to evaluating and analyzing evidence of any kind.
Second, students learn to challenge implicit biases and assumptions by looking objectively at data and factual information. This is the essence of research, but it is also at the core of professional obligations in the criminal justice field. Uncovering the truth in an investigation, evaluating physical and forensic evidence and working with offenders to prevent recidivism all benefit from an objective, fact-based approach to analysis.
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.
Improving Criminal Justice Policymaking and Procedure
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 policymakers can translate it into more effective anti-crime policy.
Currently, some experts have observed a failure among policymakers to fully implement the lessons learned through research-backed evidence into the causes, contexts and risk factors for criminal behavior. Empirical research into practical aspects of criminology – what systems and approaches produce the most effective diversions from criminal behavior, for example, or the relative utility of early and developmental crime prevention interventions – helps these policymakers make better, more cost-efficient choices as to where to spend public funds for the most positive overall impact.
Role of Research Skills in the Criminal Justice Context
Research can undoubtedly aid in forming sound and more effective policies and procedures in the criminal justice system. However, it is arguably just as important for professionals operating in law enforcement, corrections and other criminal justice contexts.
When police officers, detectives, correctional officers and parole officers understand the basic concepts, principles and methods used in criminal justice research, they are more capable of identifying sound evidence-based developments and implementing them safely in their daily job duties. Ultimately, these skills also help criminal justice professionals support and aid in the development of new policies and procedures. In this way, research helps identify more effective approaches to law enforcement and the administration of justice.
Limitations of Criminal Justice Research
Studies in the field of criminal justice are sometimes filled with qualifications and reservations, just as may be true for any social science research studies. Criminal justice research will not and does not seek to identify a “cure” for criminal behavior. Instead, reliable and properly documented criminal justice studies concede at the outset the strengths and weaknesses inherent in their underlying methodology.
As a result, when students are exposed to the various types of inquiry and methodologies used in criminal justice research, they become more sophisticated consumers of research. In time, this academic foundation becomes a professional skill set by helping them identify the strengths and weaknesses of specific studies, allowing them to improve their own job performance and work toward the improvement of the criminal justice system as well.