Criminology as a specific discipline is a relatively new field, having developed from the broader study of sociology in the 19th and 20th centuries. Society in general, and philosophers, clergy and community leaders in particular, have been studying and learning how to deal with crime throughout human history.
Though it may not hold the same perceived glamour and apparent excitement of other jobs in criminal justice, a career as a criminologist is no less important. In fact, for those who are of a more academic mind, it may present the best opportunity to contribute to the prevention and treatment of crime.
Job Functions and Work Environment
The core function of a criminologist is to examine all aspects of crime and develop ways to prevent criminal behavior and reduce recidivism. Criminologists compile statistics and identify patterns, looking at types of crimes as well as demographics and locations. The job of a criminologist is largely research driven. Research may be conducted in a sterile office setting or in the field.
Criminologists may interview criminals to learn more about their mindset and motivations for committing crimes. They may work closely with law enforcement partners, community leaders and politicians to develop policies that will help reduce crimes and ensure that alleged and convicted criminals are treated fairly and humanely.
Criminologists work for local, state and federal governments, on policy advisory boards, or for legislative committees. In some cases, they may work for privately funded think tanks or for a criminal justice or law enforcement agency. Most often, employment as a criminologist will be through a college or university, where both teaching and research will be conducted.
The job of a criminologist often includes:
- Compiling statistical data
- Conducting surveys
- Conducting research interviews
- Formulating policy recommendations
- Writing research papers and articles
- Working with law enforcement and corrections personnel
- Studying criminal behavior
- Devising strategies to help reduce crime
Education And Skill Requirements
Employment as a criminologist will require an advanced degree under almost every circumstance. Specifically, some combination of degrees in criminology, criminal justice, sociology or psychology is preferable. Graduate level education is a must for any research position. At the university or college level, a Ph.D will often be necessary.
Criminologists must have excellent organizational skills and will also likely need to have a firm grasp of mathematics, especially in the area of probability and statistics. Since some jobs may require interviewing or meeting with other criminal justice professionals or criminals, interpersonal communication skills will also be helpful. Criminologists will also need to have strong writing skills.
Job Growth and Salary Outlook
Salaries for criminologists can vary widely, based on specific job type, employer and education level. University professors, department heads and policy directors are found at the higher end of the scale. Criminologist salaries may range from around $40,000 to $122,000 annually. The median yearly wage for criminologists is approximately $72,000.
Job growth for criminologists is almost entirely dependent on public funding, as most employment is through the federal, state and local governments. For sociologists in general, the availability of jobs is expected to increase over the next several years.
As the population increases, there will very likely continue to be a need for more people willing to work as criminologists. Finding a job, however, will take a lot of leg work. Even though growth is expected, specifics jobs within the field may be hard to find.
Is a Career as a Criminologist Right for You?
The specific job of a criminologist is primarily one of research. If you are academically inclined, you may enjoy working in this field. A career as a criminologist can allow you to positively influence public policy and help devise new strategies to fight and prevent crime. People with a talent for interpreting and explaining statistical data, as well as those who have a strong desire to help their communities, will enjoy working as criminologists.