5 of the Highest Paying Criminal Justice Careers

A degree in criminal justice can lead to a variety of different jobs from the crime scene to the courtroom.

By Neil Johnson
Posted 2016

Best Criminal Justice Jobs
Best Criminal Justice Jobs

As long as crime is around, there will be a need for someone to fight it. That’s why criminal justice continues to be a solid area for employment even during slow economic times.

Degrees in criminal justice can open job opportunities from the crime scene to the courtroom.

Some of the highest-paying criminal justice careers focus on catching the criminals, such as detectives or FBI agents. Others such as forensic psychologists or criminologists explore the minds and motivations of the criminal. The court system needs attorneys on both sides of the case to prosecute offenders and ensure their rights to a fair trial.

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Since 9/11, growth of the Department of Homeland Security has increased the need for all levels of law enforcement and the criminal justice field.

Some of the jobs that command large salaries require a bachelor’s degree while others need a master’s degree or higher. Schools that offer both on-campus and online criminal justice programs are plentiful.

Here’s a look at five of the best paying jobs in the criminal justice field:


Lawyers work in all aspects of the criminal justice system, from researching laws to trying cases, either as prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Becoming a lawyer requires a bachelor’s degree and three years of law school at a college accredited by the American Bar Association. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported over 205 schools have ABA accreditation.

A law career can be financially rewarding. The median salary was $114,970 in 2014, according to the BLS, with a range of $55,400 to $172,540. The BLS projects job growth to be 6% by 2024.


A criminologist delves into the motivations of criminals to help fathom why they break the law. They may work with investigators to arrest a criminal, provide insight to lawyers on criminal behavior or work to better understand inmates in jails and prisons.

Criminology is a specialty of sociology, according to the BLS, and typically requires a master’s degree. Unless someone wants to enter a Ph.D. program, following an applied, clinical or professional master’s degree program will provide preparation for a job, the BLS said.

The agency said the median pay for a sociologist is $72,810 and the demand for employment is expected to remain consistent with little to no change through 2024.

Forensic Psychologist

Different than a criminologist, a forensic psychologist examines the psychology of a case or defendant and often is an expert witness in trials, the BLS said.

The job requires a doctorate, either a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology degree, the BLS said. In addition, the American Board of Professional Psychology awards a specialty certification in forensic psychology, its website said.

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The BLS said median pay for psychologists is $92,110 and for clinical and counseling psychologists is about $68,900. Job growth is expected to be 19%.

Police Detective

Officers who work their way up from patrol to detective investigate crimes and pursue the criminals, gathering evidence, interviewing suspects and testifying in court. Sometimes detectives work with other agencies or as part of a group investigating a serious crime or a series of crimes.

Most agencies expect detectives to have a higher level of education than patrol officers and a bachelor’s degree is desired, the BLS said.

The agency said the median salary for detectives is $79,870. Job growth is expected to be 4% or half the overall national growth.

FBI Agent

Agents for the FBI are the nation’s principal law enforcement officers, responsible for investigating and enforcing federal laws. The agency has been heavily involved in anti-terrorism efforts since 9/11.

The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies require a bachelor’s degree in addition to law enforcement experience. FBI agents usually need three years of experience in addition to a college degree, the BLS said.

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Agents usually start at the federal GS5 to GS7 pay scales, according to the BLS. Federaldatacenter.com puts that rating at $32,000 to $42,000, with an additional stipend based on location.

While the BLS said overall job growth is expected to be about 7% with high competition for the FBI and other federal agencies, growth in anti-terrorism security could create demand for jobs.

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