Criminal Justice vs. Criminology: What's the Difference?
Criminology and criminal justice are closely related fields that often get mentioned interchangeably. However, criminal justice and criminology are distinct disciplines, each with its own focus, methodologies, and applications.
What is criminal justice?
Criminal justice focuses on the study of the institutions and processes within the criminal justice system. This includes law enforcement, the court system, and corrections. Criminal justice seeks to maintain order in society, deter criminal behavior, and ensure that individuals accused of crimes receive fair treatment.
What is criminology?
Criminology is primarily concerned with the academic study of crime itself. It delves into the underlying causes of criminal behavior, the psychological and sociological factors that contribute to criminal activities, and the impact of crime on individuals and society as a whole. The field of criminology seeks to deepen our understanding of criminal behavior, crime patterns, and societal response to crime.
Key differences between criminal justice and criminology
- Focus: While criminal justice focuses on the administration of justice and the day-to-day operations within the system, criminology focuses on the theoretical and sociological aspects of criminal behavior, including the root causes of crime and the broader societal implications of crime.
- Scope: The scope of criminal justice is narrower—it focuses on the operational aspects of the criminal justice system, such as law enforcement strategies, court procedures, and corrections policies. Criminology’s scope is broader—its focus includes the study of criminal behavior, victimology, theories of deviance, and societal response to crime. Criminology explores the psychological and sociological aspects of criminal behavior and the social consequences of crime.
- Degree: If you earn a degree in criminal justice, you’ll learn practical skills and knowledge that can prepare you for a career in criminal justice. Graduates with a master’s degree in criminal justice often work in roles such as law enforcement officer, probation officer, criminal investigator, or correctional officer, where they apply their training to the real-world operations of the criminal justice system.1
If you earn a degree in criminology, you’ll learn about criminology theories and how to conduct research. Graduates with a master’s degree in criminology often work in positions like crime analyst, researcher, child forensic interviewer, criminal justice reform advocate, and policy researcher.1
Which master’s degree is better: criminal justice or criminology?
Choosing between criminology and criminal justice for your master’s degree largely depends on your career plans and personal interests. Here are some factors to consider:
- Career goals. If you aspire to work in law enforcement, corrections, or criminal justice administration, an MS in Criminal Justice may be the more suitable choice. However, if you are drawn to research, policy analysis, or teaching, criminology may be a better fit.
- Theory or practice? Do you want to delve into the theoretical underpinnings of criminal behavior and its societal context? Then you might choose a criminology major. Are you more interested in the practical application of criminal justice? A master’s in criminal justice is an ideal choice.
- Research or operations? If you’re passionate about conducting research and analyzing data, you’ll likely enjoy earning your master’s in criminology. If you want to work in the criminal justice system, investigating crimes and enforcing laws, you’ll probably appreciate the operational knowledge you can gain by earning your master’s degree in criminal justice.
In some criminal justice master’s degree programs, you’ll take research and criminology courses in addition to courses on the application of criminal justice. Walden University’s MS in Criminal Justice degree program includes courses like The Nature of Crime and Criminology, Victimology, and Criminal Justice Research. You can choose the General Program or one of eight specializations to focus your learning in a specific area of interest:
- General Program
- Behavioral Sciences
- Emergency Management
- Homeland Security Policy and Coordination
- International/Global Criminal Justice Issues
- Law and Public Policy
- Public Management and Leadership
- Terrorism, Mediation, and Peace
No matter which area you choose, you’ll study contemporary theories of criminal behavior. You’ll learn how specific events have changed how the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. Code, and the U.S. Patriot Act are interpreted from a legal perspective. You’ll develop research skills that can enable you to collect data and analyze criminal justice trends. And you’ll consider the relationship between criminals and victims.
In Walden’s online criminal justice master’s degree program, you can enjoy a flexible learning platform that allows you to study from anywhere, anytime, without commuting to a campus. You can even work full time while you pursue your degree, and then immediately put your learning to use on the job. Walden has been leading adult learning for more than 50 years. In a master’s degree program at Walden, you can broaden your skills in the criminal justice field.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Criminal Justice degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.
1Career positions may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.
Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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