Three Unique Opportunities in Criminal Justice

Man pointing at list of inmates on a digital screen

A career in criminal justice offers exceptional career opportunities. Beyond law enforcement and corrections, the field of criminal justice is growing to create a diverse job market. The scope of employment opportunities range from generalized criminal justice positions to those in complex and specialized fields. Penology, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Drug Enforcement Agency are among many unique criminal justice career areas, each with their own specific subsets of career opportunities.


A penologist’s primary objective is to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders throughout the prison system. With more than 1.5 million people detained in federal and state facilities, a top concern is how to best implement strategies for detention, criminal reform, and crime prevention [1]. As the number of incarcerated offenders grows, the need for penologists to assist in prison reformation increases.

Penologists study the incarceration experience and operate within the broad scope of the prison system. They work with other prison staff and give recommendations on how to improve the functional operation and design of rehabilitation programs. Professionals in this field can expect to create programs for criminal rehabilitation, work directly with inmates, educate and advise officers and guards, as well as generate recommendations for prison policy and prevention programs.

Additionally, a penologist may assist prison architects and leaders in creating layouts and programs that facilitate effective prison management. Examples include escape prevention strategies, drug testing programs, and educational and religious initiatives. Specific career options include acting as a case manager, corrections program specialist, correctional officer, or policy advisor.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

For those with interest in governmental policy, implementation and protection, there are professional opportunities available in federal law enforcement. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is an agency.with a “primary mission to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration.”

Through the Department of Homeland Security, ICE agents interact with criminal justice agencies in a variety of roles. Areas of responsibility include ensuring compliance to immigration regulations, detecting violations of state and federal customs policies, and inspecting, detaining, and removing those in violation of federal immigration law. Individuals pursuing careers in ICE may hold a variety of job positions such as intelligence officer, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent, technical enforcement officer, immigration enforcement agent and more.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also focus on human trafficking, cyber-crimes and other aspects of national security. The mission of the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit (CEIU), for example, is to “protect and rescue children from criminals who seek to harm or exploit them.” [3] One specific initiative that falls under the CEIU is Operation Predator. Investigators working within this unit identify, investigate and arrest child predators who operate on a cross-state and international scale. This is just one of several opportunities to use a criminal justice education to contribute to large-scale investigative work.

Drug Enforcement Agency

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency that focuses on the flow of illegal drugs into and throughout the nation. To accomplish this the DEA has a number of roles including seizing money and property used in the drug trade, supporting the prosecution of those involved in the drug trade, including gang members, and supporting local, state and foreign governments in destroying drug crops. [4]

Careers with the DEA are varied and include positions such as special agent, investigator, forensic scientist and research intelligence specialist. For example, a research intelligence specialist is tasked with collecting and analyzing data that can assist in understanding how illegal drugs are produced and trafficked across borders. This type of research can also help other governmental agencies learn more about violent crime and terrorism tactics. Of course, employment in this federal agency requires passing a detailed background investigation. A physical exam is also required for agents who will be working out in the field.


While many think first of criminal justice jobs in local law enforcement or state corrections, the profession has expanded to include many opportunities for those with a wide variety of skill sets and interests. These opportunities within criminal justice are seeking candidates that exhibit leadership qualities, critical thinking skills, and a strong understanding of their field. Whether an individual is interacting with inmates while collaborating on how to improve the current prison systems, or enforcing federal law on our nation’s borders – a degree in criminology and criminal justice provides the educational background needed to explore and excel within these expanding fields.


  1. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS): Prisoners in 2014. (2015, September 17). Retrieved February 28, 2016, from
  2. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security on the internet at (visited May 13, 2016)
  3. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. Child Exploitation Investigations Unit on the internet at (visited May 13, 2016)
  4. Drug Enforcement Agency on the internet at (visited May 25, 2016)
  5. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security. (Visited June 15, 2016)