A two-year criminal justice degree is required for work in law enforcement and correctional facilities. The degree also prepares students for work as security guards or inventory control specialists in a private business. Nationally, most law enforcement agencies require 60 hours of coursework. Associate degree programs take two to three years to complete, and the degree may also be earned online.
Coursework in criminal justice is intended to develop an understanding of the criminal justice system in the United States, including historical background. Theories behind crime, including sociological and economic studies, are intended to provide context for working in the criminal justice field. An understanding of the legal principles and ramifications of law enforcement is another objective. Communication skills are also emphasized in associate degree programs.
Programs in criminal justice require an introduction course, a theory course or a course giving an overview of the American justice system. Courses in criminal law and criminal investigation are general requirements for the degree. Some programs also require ethics courses and a study of juvenile justice as core requirements. Forensic studies may also be included among mandatory courses.
Elective courses in criminal justice include more specialized study in topics relating to both policing and correctional facilities. These courses may include policing, community-oriented policing and diversity studies in policing. Courses focusing on law may be offered, including constitutional law and legal issues in evidence. Electives also include those specific to security issues.
Associate degrees in criminal justice also require classes in general education, including English, math, science and social sciences. Composition and communication classes may be required to fulfill an English requirement, while a basic math course will fulfill most mathematics requirements. Science electives include options in biology, chemistry or physics. Social science options include psychology, sociology and anthropology.