"How much money can I make?" is a question many young men and women ask themselves and their academic advisers when selecting a college major. In most cases, the answer depends on the career path you choose, whether you take a job that relates directly to your field of study and other considerations. For students who earn a degree in criminal justice, their earning potential depends in part on the type of criminal justice career they pursue, such as law enforcement, corrections or criminal law.
A degree in criminal justice opens the door to a range of job opportunities with differing levels of compensation. Many men and women with criminal justice degrees pursue careers as law enforcement officers with city or state police departments. Other types of criminal justice jobs include correctional officer in a jail or prison or working as a parole or probation officer. In addition, a criminal justice degree followed by successful completion of law school can prepare you to work as a criminal prosecutor for a local district attorney's office.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2008 that police officers in local police departments earned a median annual salary of $51,410. However, average police salaries varied with whether an officer works for a local, state or federal law enforcement agency. Federal officers earned an average of $46,620 a year, while state law enforcement officers earned an average salary of $57,270 a year, the BLS reported.
The BLS further reported that correctional officers and jailers earned a median annual salary of $38,380, while probation and parole officers earned nearly $46,000 a year.
Criminal prosecutors generally earn higher salaries than other jobs in criminal justice do, in part because of the higher educational requirements for lawyers. If you have a criminal justice degree and wish to become a lawyer, you must complete three years of law school, pass the bar exam for the state in which you reside and obtain a job with a district attorney's office. In many states, the district attorney for a city or county prosecutes suspected criminal offenders. The BLS does not publish salary data for criminal prosecutors specifically, but reported that lawyers employed by state and local governments earn an average of $78,000 to $83,000 a year.
Additional education and experience as a criminal justice professional can lead to higher-level criminal justice jobs with higher salaries. For example, law enforcement supervisors such as police chiefs can earn more than $100,000 a year, the BLS reported. The BLS added that salaries for police supervisors can range from more than $58,000 a year for a sergeant to $96,209 for a deputy chief.
The earning potential for a criminal justice degree depends not only on the type of job but also the quality and level of degree, such as whether you have an associate, bachelor's or graduate-level degree. Your experience and job skills comprise additional factors.