TV or Reality – What Exactly is Criminal Justice?

Law and order, Chicago P.D., CSI, Luther, How To Get Away With Murder – what do these all have in common? Criminal justice… sort of.

But, although the flashing blue and red lights, blood-spatter analysis, and fast-paced police chase scenes do bear some aspects of truth, there’s a lot that the media doesn’t get right about criminal justice.

A 2014 research paper by Susan H. Sarapin and Glenn G. Sparks traced the relationship between the media portrayal of criminal justice and the real-world impacts of its presence. Interestingly, one of the biggest impacts of the continual CSI parade on modern TV is a great increase of those pursuing careers in crime-related fields.

Considering this shift to reality, let’s explore some of the misconceptions that TV portrays, as well as delve into exactly what criminal justice really is.

What Is Criminal Justice?

The theory behind criminal justice is all about tracing both the causes and the nature of crime itself. Within this, concepts like politics, history, social structures, and law are all taken into account, using interdisciplinary thinking to trace the prominence of modern crime.

Commenting directly on the ‘justice’ part of criminal justice, this field also touches on how societies respond to crime, tapping into legal and governmental systems of dealing with delinquency.

Behind criminal justice is a range of social theories, touching upon areas like criminology, criminal investigation theory, and social analysis. It’s an incredibly broad area of study, but one that is very engaging. It’s not hard to see why this particular field has been a favorite of TV media for the past several decades.

What does TV get wrong about criminal justice?

Of course, being a media production, many aspects of the criminal justice system are hyperbolized in order to deliver a more exciting portrayal of the day-to-day life of someone in this field. Whether focusing on the life of a police officer or a criminal justice lawyer, TV always focuses on the very best bits.

The episodic nature of TV also makes it seem that those that work in criminal justice handle only one case at a time. With 60 minutes to wrap up an episode, the media portrays officers tracking down a killer, solving a case, or cross-examining a defendant with neat final conclusions. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the case, with those working within criminal justice having to juggle multiple cases at once.

Additionally, as the law is a game of interpretation, conclusions aren’t always as clear-cut as they seem. One needs only to look at American news outlets to see a whole range of questionable decisions when it comes to the sentences inflicted on some, while others get off completely free.

In reality, criminal justice can be incredibly complicated. But, in the multi-layered and intradisciplinary nature of this study also lies its inherent attraction. It’s an incredibly exciting field that leads to a range of different career paths.

What education lies behind a career in criminal justice?

Whether you’re watching people in police work, crime scene investigating, or criminal justice profiling, a criminal justice degree is most likely the required qualification that your favorites from the TV have.

Typically a four-year bachelor’s course, criminal justice teaches students about the criminal justice system on a local, state, and federal level. From the structures currently in place, the historical practices that formed those structures, and the current legal standing, this degree is a comprehensive introduction to this area.

A criminal justice degree can often examine the theories that lay behind certain laws, looking at how socio-political influences can impact crime in an area. Alongside general theory, students may also be introduced to practical elements, allowing them to be career-ready as soon as they graduate.

For someone looking to move into a career in the court system, corrections, or law enforcement, and get a piece of the CSI media story, taking this degree is a wonderful place to begin.

What core skills are used in criminal justice?

As we’ve established, criminal justice is a lot more than flashing lights and car chases. In fact, many of the core skills that someone following this career path possess are foundational pillars that many different careers rely on:

  • Communication Skills – These skills are essential for the majority of careers. In criminal justice, communication is used to relay your findings to other members of your team. These also go hand-in-hand with presentational skills, presenting information you’ve discovered to a larger audience. An example of this would be demonstrating why a police department should reallocate its resources based on an analysis of crime in an area.
  • Analytical Skills – Those in the field of criminal justice need to be able to critically understand theoretical concepts, then applying their understanding to create models that reflect a certain purpose. While one student of criminal justice may use analytical skills to expose linguistic interpretations of the law, another may use these skills to create tools to better understand crime investigations in a certain area.
  • Time Management – Unlike in the media, someone in criminal law may have to deal with a range of different clients at the same time.Staying on top of different appointments, court dates, or managing many clients at once is a vital skill to develop.
  • Critical Thinking – The further you progress into criminal justice, the more apparent it may become that American laws, and those that carry out the law, disproportionately target African Americans. Developing critical thinking skills by seeing and understanding the issues of racism and sexism that are behind the legal system may help you approach life more critically going forward.This is rarely something that’s touched on within the media, but is incredibly pressing.

Final Thoughts on Criminal Justice

One thing that the media doesn’t get wrong about criminal justice is that it’s an incredibly exciting career path to follow.

With a huge range of opportunities, an ability to specialize, and a predicted 8% increase in the number of jobs in this field between 2020-2030, criminal justice is a fantastic career to go into.

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