Criminal justice is a way of maintaining social order within a society. By creating and enforcing laws, a society can uphold its values and improve the safety of its citizens. Criminal justice practitioners are typically individuals who want to help improve society and provide assistance to individuals inside and outside the legal system, and a degree in criminal justice provides the basic framework for anyone interested in pursuing a career in public safety.
There are three primary components to the United States criminal justice system: adjudication, corrections and law enforcement. The police traditionally provide law enforcement. Corrections consist of prison or incarceration, while adjudication refers to the court process. Within these three areas are specializations in paralegal studies, investigation and criminal justice administration. Private security specialists, loss prevention managers and victim advocates also typically begin their career with an education in criminal justice.
Because of its wide scope, criminal justice is a part of virtually every community regardless of its size or location. An individual enters the system when he is first accused of committing a crime by law enforcement officials. He then proceeds to the adjudication phase. If he is found guilty of committing the crime, he will then be forced to enter the corrections phase. Along the way this individual may encounter many different people who will hopefully have a positive influence on his reform, including corrections officers, probation and parole officers, youth counselors and court-appointed attorneys and paralegals. Each of these positions provides an opportunity for the people in these roles to have a positive impact on an offender's life.
In each case, the law acts as a guide. However, each stage of the process allows greater or lesser leniency for the accused based on the circumstances of his case. Criminal justice professionals must use their judgment and expertise to apply the law fairly. Whether someone chooses to become a police officer, corrections officer, youth counselor, paralegal or even private security provider, upholding the law is not easy, but seeing justice carried out can be very rewarding.