What is a Doctor of Criminal Justice?

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Updated April 24, 2021

Earning a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice may help an individual working in law enforcement, the justice system, or other related areas qualify for roles with greater responsibility and pay. Exploring the details of the average doctoral program may help a student or person currently in the workforce decide whether spending an additional three to six years in college is worth the time and cost.

Application and Plan of Study for Doctoral Students

Admission to a doctoral program often requires that a student has already earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree in a related or similar discipline, and some programs also require that applicants have real-world experience in an area directly related to one's course of study. Experience in corrections, social work, criminology, law enforcement, or rehabilitation are common for doctoral students.

A doctoral degree will offer a student advanced study in criminology, research methods, and statistical analysis, as well as offer the opportunity to conduct personal research in pursuit of a doctoral thesis. Some doctoral programs offer students the opportunity to take electives in related areas like political science, psychology, sociology, or public administration.

Thesis Topics and Areas of Study in Criminology

Students who wish to have a positive impact on the justice system and law enforcement will have the opportunity through a doctoral thesis that must be defended to complete a degree program. Possible theses and areas of concentration include research on strategies to prevent or deter criminal behavior, the effectiveness of capital punishment as a crime deterrent, and the legality of sex offender registries.

Other topics under discussion within modern law enforcement include the use of body cameras worn by police officers, the state of the "War on Drugs" in the United States, the number of people incarcerated in the United States versus other developed nations, and the changes that might occur with the continuing decriminalization of marijuana use in various states across the country.

Employment for Graduates of Doctoral Programs

In some professions, a doctoral degree earns one the right to teach at the collegiate level or enter research. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that teachers earn an approximate wage of $67,040 a year when employed at postsecondary institutions. While teaching and engaging in research are two pathways available to Ph.D. holders in criminal justice, there are also several other important jobs available to highly educated graduates. Reaching the top of the employment ladder at many companies, government agencies, and organizations means possessing a doctoral degree.

In addition to research and teaching careers, potential jobs for someone who has earned a doctoral degree include those in policymaking, high ranking jobs in law enforcement, employment with government agencies, and consulting work for private industry. For example, someone with a doctoral degree may qualify to work as the Chief of Police in a major metropolitan area. He or she may also find work as a Special Agent for the CIA or FBI.

A Doctoral Degree That Opens Many Doors

It is routinely shared that higher education tends to offer the average student a higher wage than when he or she only graduates from high school and enters the workforce. Master's degrees tend to offer graduates even higher income than bachelor's degrees, but it's important to consider that doctoral degrees aren't always a way to boost income. In some subjects, doctoral degrees are the pathway to academia and teaching.

A Ph.D. in Criminal Justice stands out for its applicability to jobs in academia, as well as those in high ranking areas of law enforcement, the justice system, the federal government, and related private industries.

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