A list of recent dissertation topics in criminal justice reads like a list of newspaper headlines: an examination of students' perceptions of racial disparities in capital sentencing, a discussion of survivor victims' views on the criminal justice system, using GPS technology to monitor sex offenders. The list goes on. Your interest in a dissertation topic may well fit this mold, but that should not dissuade you from seeing the possibility of scholarly research in another area.
One element of the criminal justice system that deserves a good bit of investigation, given the ubiquitous nature of media, would be the effect of various media outlets on criminal behavior or on perceptions of the justice system. You may find yourself using cultivation theory to examine the impact of crime-related television. Along these lines, one good topic for a dissertation would be looking at crime-related programming's effects on youth perceptions of the justice system. Other possibilities include examinations of the effects on the public of either televised political rhetoric about criminal justice or official information by community leaders through media outlets.
Teaching and Pedagogy
Those who prefer to do research while avoiding the pop culture angle can choose to examine pedagogical issues in their dissertations, looking at learning styles of criminal justice students. A valid dissertation topic in this area would be a comparison of face-to-face and online education for criminal justice students. In such a case, you could compare elements such as student satisfaction, the acquisition of knowledge and skill sets or the propensity for compassion. Other topics in criminal justice education would include students' perceptions of restorative justice or the development of ethics curricula for undergraduates.
A third possible specialization for criminal justice Ph.D. students faced with the dissertation would be research on various areas of international justice. For example, you may be fascinated with studying a comparison of the effects of capital punishment on ethnic minorities in the United States and another country of your choice. In the same vein, you could examine the perceived indifference of the justice system towards minorities in two countries. Other dissertation topics in this area include alternative indigenous justice systems in international criminal trials, the treatment of youth offenders in other countries, such as Canada, which has a very strict code.
The possibilities for dissertations in criminal justice are innumerable. You could do a comparison of the effects of online versus face-to-face criminal justice learning on attitudes towards academic achievement, or look at a historical period in any given country, such as Republican Beijing between 1912-1937, or you could examine the effects of television shows like "CSI" and "Criminal Minds" on recruitment for criminal justice programs. Other popular areas for dissertations would be reforming the current criminal justice system and discussing the effects of the system on people diagnosed with mental health issues or on those who suffer from substance abuse problems and need treatment.
The Open Education Database states that criminal justice jobs other than those for police officers are growing at a rapid rate. As the site reminds us, you should think of the full range of jobs in the criminal justice area: probation officers, private investigators or legal assistants. With the field growing, there will be a need for Ph.D. candidates to fill teaching positions, and your dissertation may be your ticket to an academic position.
Anthony Fonseca is the library director at Elms College in Massachusetts. He has a doctorate in English and has taught various writing courses and literature survey courses. His books include readers' advisory guides, pop culture encyclopedias and academic librarianship studies.