The Highest-Paying Careers in Criminal Justice in 2019

The criminal justice system provides multiple career possibilities in each of its three major areas of operation: high paying law enforcement jobs, judiciary and law jobs, and corrections jobs. Law enforcement is a major employer of criminal justice graduates, from local police officers and investigators to federal agents with specializations in fields such as cybercrime and homeland security. The judiciary relies not only on judges and attorneys, but also on a host of other highly trained legal personnel, including court reporters, legal clerks, and paralegals. Finally, correctional institutions cannot function without skilled supervisors, specialists, guards, and counselors.

Jobs you can enjoy with a criminal justice degree -- including opportunities for career advancement and high salaries -- continue to expand. While employment prospects vary by geographic location, educational level, and experience, this guide points you to some of the top-paying criminal justice jobs in law enforcement, the legal system, and corrections.

Top-Paying Jobs in Criminal Justice

Top-Paying Jobs in Law Enforcement

FBI Agent

Assigned to field offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) across the United States, these skilled professionals conduct all aspects of federal criminal investigations, often spending many hours in the field. FBI agents must possess at least a bachelor's degree, specialized training, and law enforcement experience. The FBI also requires its agents to pass a rigorous physical examination.

Average Salary: $64,168
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree

Police and Detectives

These law enforcement professionals collect evidence and participate in raids, stake outs, investigations, and arrests. They also interview suspects and witnesses in the course of investigating criminal cases. They analyze evidence, write detailed reports, and testify in court. While some police officers enter the field without an undergraduate degree, a growing number of police and detective positions require a bachelor's degree.

Average Salary: $62,960
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree for most positions

U.S. Marshal

As the enforcement arm of the U.S. Federal Courts, U.S. Marshals perform specialized law enforcement roles, primarily capturing fugitives, transporting prisoners, serving federal warrants, and coordinating the witness protection program. Applicants must be 21-36 years of age, demonstrate mental and physical fitness, and successfully complete a strenuous 21.5-week training program.

Average Salary: $62,400
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree

Border Patrol Agent

Border patrol agents use their knowledge of immigration law and trade policy to protect the country's borders. They patrol land borders and the surrounding waters to limit the flow of illegal immigration, goods, and drugs. The work requires expertise with a variety of technological tools, including electric sensors, drones, and infrared scopes. Applicants for this position must pass an arduous 58-day training period.

Average Salary: $58,098
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree

How to Choose a Program

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General Counsel

General counsels serve as the main legal officers of corporations. Depending on the type of business, general counsels draft, review, and negotiate contracts; assist in mergers and acquisitions; oversee copyright management and infringement claims; and represent their corporate clients in legal cases and with government regulatory agencies. They must possess a J.D. degree and specialized industry experience.

Average Salary: $160,448
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree and J.D.


Lawyers specialize in a particular legal field, representing individuals and business and government departments in legal matters. They communicate with their clients, advising them about their legal rights and obligations. Lawyers represent their clients in court cases and prepare and file legal documents on their behalf. They may work independently in law firms or in local, state, or federal agencies.

Average Salary: $119,250
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree and J.D.

Judges and Hearing Officers

Working in all levels of the court system, these high-ranking legal officers preside over trials and court hearings. They research legal issues, hear arguments, weigh evidence, and apply laws and precedents to make judgements and resolve disputes. They approve search and arrest warrants, determine the amount of bond for a defendant's release, and set conditions for sentencing of those found guilty.

Average Salary: $115,520
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree and J.D.

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

These specialists facilitate negotiation and manage conflicts to resolve personal and professional disputes outside the court system. They assist lawyers and legal teams in law firms, government agencies, and social services. They clarify issues under dispute, research and apply relevant laws and regulations, and bring the disputing parties together to reach settlements and broker agreements.

Average Salary: $60,670
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree; some positions may require a master's and/or J.D.


Paralegals work in law firms, corporations, and the courts, where they provide essential legal, regulatory, and business-related services to lawyers. They may perform research; file motions, pleadings, or briefs; interview clients; and/or obtain affidavits and other statements used as evidence in court. Paralegals also prepare, review, organize, and maintain legal documents in paper and electronic filing systems.

Average Salary: $46,841
Education Requirements: Associate degree; some positions may require a bachelor's

Graduate Application Guide

Click above to explore basic steps for applying to graduate school, including completing prerequisites, taking the GRE, writing a personal statement, crafting a resume, and securing letters of recommendation.

Top-Paying Jobs in the Corrections System

Prison Warden

Chief administrative officers within a prison, wardens supervise all aspects of the prison operation, including the hiring and managing of correctional officers, guards, janitors, and office workers; budgeting; and space allocation. They respond to violence; determine rehabilitation policy; and provide basic health needs, education, and other services for prisoners.

Average Salary: $83,291
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree

Senior Corrections Officer

Members of the management team within prisons, these specialized professionals train and supervise all levels of correctional personnel, organize shift schedules, and provide mentoring and assistance to individual officers. Their responsibilities also include supervising head counts, maintaining order, and protecting the safety of inmates and guards. They document all activities, respond to incidents, and complete paperwork.

Average Salary: $47,440
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree for federal-level placements

First-Line Supervisor/Manager of Corrections Officers

Similar to senior corrections officers, these first-line supervisors coordinate the activities of correctional officers and monitor the prison population. They typically engage in more face-to-face supervision of lower-level correctional personnel and inmates. Their primary responsibilities include maintaining order, disciplining others, carrying out routines, and securing assigned areas or the entire institution.

Average Salary: $46,157
Education Requirements: Associate degree; some positions may require a bachelor's

Correctional Treatment Specialist

These specialized correctional professionals facilitate the rehabilitation of criminal offenders, offering appropriate services for offenders on probation or parole. They assist individuals to satisfy the conditions of their release and avoid recidivism by connecting them with social services such as drug counseling or job training. They often testify in court proceedings regarding an offender's progress since release.

Average Salary: $45,020
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degree

Correctional Counselor

Working directly with inmates in prisons, these correctional professionals plan and carry out a variety of inmate services and programs. They address behavioral concerns, coordinate placement into job training or GED classes, and contribute to assessments about parole. These counselors carry the major responsibility for ensuring the protection of inmate rights and the delivery of required services.

Average Salary: $41,706
Education Requirements: Bachelor's degre