In the information age, the criminal justice system — and those who practice within it — has had to adjust to the growing digital environment. The internet is providing criminals with new ways to commit offenses, and social platforms and technologies are giving rise to significant privacy concerns. At the same time, this increased access to technology is also changing how criminal justice professionals perform their jobs. So, what is criminal justice, especially in this digital age?
Individuals who are studying the field of criminal justice can land a variety of careers related to the law and its enforcement, and graduates need to be prepared to work within a constantly changing digital environment. However, digital technology, such as the internet, has dramatically impacted modern criminal justice. Those interested in a career at the digital forefront of criminal justice should consider Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice degree.
What Is Criminal Justice?
Traditionally speaking, criminal justice is the system within the government that focuses on all legal proceedings related to criminal law, ranging from law enforcement and the court system to corrections and rehabilitation. Criminal justice also includes criminology, which is the study of crime and its causes. Professionals in criminal justice may work in law enforcement, the courts system, or the corrections system. A common goal is to study criminals to better understand the costs and consequences of crime.
Students of criminal justice often study aspects of criminology, the police, criminal courts, and correctional institutions from a theoretical perspective, as well as explore the functions of those entities. They learn how the different branches of criminal justice work together to prevent crimes and remove criminals from the streets.
Evolution of Criminal Justice Technology
Due to the evolution of technology, criminal justice professionals have many different ways of analyzing data to develop law enforcement strategies. To better understand what criminal justice is today, the following are some of the technological challenges and opportunities currently facing professionals in the field.
The challenge: The list of internet-related crimes is long. Identity theft, computer hacking, and buying and selling illegal goods are just a few of the many common digital crimes. Those working in criminal justice-related jobs as law enforcement officers, probation officers, or computer forensics investigators must have a strong working knowledge of how information is disseminated through the internet, who may be at risk of crimes, and how to protect the public against criminal activity.
The opportunity: The same tools that are available to criminals are also available to those who investigate the crimes. A computer forensics investigator, for example, may be able to access the computer of an alleged criminal to recover evidence, and a police officer could operate undercover online to catch criminals who are using the internet to traffic illegal goods.
Social Media, Smartphones, and a More Connected Public
The challenge: In 2016, 77% of adult Americans had a smartphone — an already staggering percentage that’s surely increased since. This level of connectivity gives rise to multiple civil liberties issues that may not have previously been considered.
While looking into a suspected criminal’s social history on Facebook and Twitter may be helpful for law enforcement officers, is it ethical? Are police body cameras an invasion of innocent citizens’ privacy, or do they ensure police accountability? Should police have the right to access a person’s locked phone or private social accounts if the individual is suspected of a crime? These are just a few of the privacy-related issues new technology poses for those working in the criminal justice system.
The opportunity: As people begin to live more and more of their daily lives online, criminal justice professionals are better able to reach the public. Law enforcement professionals can build relationships and trust in their communities by being open and transparent online through their own social channels. Also, the public can be mobilized more quickly through digital communication to assist in investigations.
Take Amber Alerts, for example. Investigators who are seeking a missing child may post information about the child and the alleged abductor on social media, which can then be disseminated rapidly across the country — or even globally. The more people who are on the lookout for the missing child, the more likely it is that child will be found.
Leaks, Livestreams, and Real-Time Information
The challenge: While a computer forensics investigator may be able to retrieve helpful information from a computer, a tech-savvy criminal or activist can use the same skills to hack into government or corporate databases and disseminate private information. Information released through WikiLeaks, such as the Panama Papers, may expose alleged wrongdoing, but the leaks may also violate laws, such as the Espionage Act.
Additionally, the fact that most Americans own a smartphone means that there are a significant number of cameras out on the streets. People can livestream events or protests, or film interactions with law enforcement officials. Because information can travel easily online, criminal justice professionals must have an understanding of how to handle leaks, hacks, and the dissemination of potentially sensitive information in an efficient and ethical fashion.
The opportunity: Videos or photos taken by the public can potentially contribute to painting a fuller picture of an alleged incident, and they can also present a different perspective of an event or situation that is being investigated. In that regard, the technology available today may benefit both the public and criminal justice professionals. It brings greater investigative capabilities to law enforcement and criminal investigations, and also introduces an element of transparency and accountability.
What Is Criminal Justice and What Careers Does It Entail?
Individuals can pursue a variety of criminal justice careers. Students who are looking to work in law enforcement may become police officers, criminal investigators, detectives, immigration inspectors, patrol officers, and beyond. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police officers and detectives across the U.S. made an annual median salary of $65,170 in 2019.
Those who are interested in criminal justice from the perspective of the courts system can become attorneys, judges, and lawyers. These individuals ensure that justice is carried out as criminals are tried and charged. According to the BLS, judges and hearing officers made an annual median salary of $120,090 in 2019. Lawyers across the U.S. made an annual median salary of $122,960.
Holding a position in a correctional facility is also an option for those who are interested in a criminal justice career. Professionals may work as correctional officers, bailiffs, probation officers, and correctional treatment specialists. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists made an annual median salary of $54,290 in 2019, and correctional officers and bailiffs made an annual median salary of $45,300, according to the BLS.
Pursue a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice
Technology and a wide range of changing social trends have dramatically impacted modern criminal justice — and continue to do so today. Those who are interested in exploring what criminal justice is and how to pursue a career in the field should consider enrolling in Maryville University’s online bachelor’s in criminal justice degree program as a first step. Learn more about how the program can help students prepare for a rewarding career in criminal justice.
How Criminal Justice Professionals Will Fight Future Crimes
How Future Police Officers Will Adapt to Trends in Law Enforcement
The Main Types of Crimes: Motivations and Crime Protection
The Balance Careers, “How to Choose a Law Enforcement Career”
The Balance Careers, “Learn About Criminal Justice”
L-Tron, “What Technology Has Affected the Criminal Justice System?”
RAND, “Emerging Technology Trends and Their Impact on Criminal Justice”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Correctional Officers and Bailiffs
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Judges and Hearing Officers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyers
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Detectives
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists