Criminal justice and criminology are two closely related fields that, at first glance, may seem synonymous or interchangeable. The truth is that these two disciplines are very different, with unique goals, focuses, and roles in the community.
What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is the system of groups and government agencies that regulate crime and penalize those who commit it. There are two main criminal justice systems in the United States: the state criminal justice system—which oversees crimes committed within state boundaries—and the federal criminal justice system—which handles crimes committed in more than one state or on federal property. Though criminal justice is a wide and complex field, it is made up of three main elements:
- Law Enforcement: This branch includes professionals, such as police officers and detectives, and is the branch that enforces the law.
- The Courts: Made up of judges and lawyers, this is the component of criminal justice that determines whether someone is guilty or innocent and decides on how they should be punished.
- Corrections: This branch carries out the courts’ sentence to make sure that the criminal activity does not continue.
What is Criminology?
Criminology is the study and understanding of crime. Criminologists seek to discover the causes, types, and effects of crimes. They examine crime from both a sociological and a psychological perspective—what made someone commit a crime, and how it affected the individuals and communities involved.
Criminology has many areas of focus, but some of the most common are:
- How biology influences and is affected by crime
- Women and crime
- The penal system—specifically the prison system
- Crime rates, locations, and types
- Social causes and responses to crime
- Individual causes and responses to crime
- Criminal psychology
Criminal Justice vs. Criminology: The Differences
While there is some overlap between parts of criminal justice and criminology, they are separate fields with distinct goals:
- Criminal justice focuses on the prevention, prosecution, and punishment for crime.
- Criminology studies the causes and effects of crime, socially and individually.
In short, criminal justice looks at the what, while criminology looks at the why.
Different career paths:
- Criminal justice can lead to a position in law enforcement, corrections, victim advocacy, the CIA and more.
- Criminology jobs include criminal psychology, intervention and rehabilitation planning, investigation, crime analysis, etc.
Criminal Justice and Criminology: The Similarities
Despite the differences, criminal justice and criminology are similar in many respects:
- They both work closely with criminals and legal professionals.
- Jobs in both fields require a solid basis in other disciplines, such as statistics, computer science and forensics, as well as strong critical thinking, communication and analytical skills.
- Someone with a background in law enforcement or another criminal justice discipline would be an excellent candidate for a degree in criminology—and vice versa.
Ultimately, criminology and criminal justice have the same purpose: to prevent crime and enforce the law.
It is easy to see why criminal justice and criminology are so often confused as the same field. There are many similarities between the two that make them seem interchangeable, especially since they are both related to the prevention of crime. However, there are important differences that separate them: criminology focuses on figuring out why crimes are committed, and criminal justice is all about making sure criminals don’t continue to commit crimes. A degree and career in either criminal justice or criminology is ideal for anyone who wants to give back to their community and help others improve their lives.