Degree Programs for Criminal Justice Jobs in Illinois

From law enforcement officers and correctional officers to paralegals and criminal investigators, Illinois boasts some impressive figures when it comes to employment numbers, salary potential, and job growth in the field of criminal justice.

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Contributing factors like population growth, demographics, and professional education and training opportunities, place jobs within Illinois’s criminal justice system among the most desirable in the state:

  • Illinois pays the highest average forensic technician salary, and the fourth-highest average correctional officer salary of all states in the nation
  • Illinois is home to the fifth-highest number of paralegals, police officers and deputy sheriffs of all states in the nation
  • The Chicago metropolitan area employs the fifth-highest number of detectives, the third-highest number of sheriff deputies and police officers, and the eighth-highest number of correctional officers of all cities in the nation
  • Illinois’ rural West Central area offers the fourth-highest average salary for paralegals of all non-metropolitan areas in the nation

Law Enforcement and Criminal Investigation Jobs in Illinois

Tens of thousands of dedicated law enforcement personnel work throughout Illinois to promote civility and the rule of law. The front line of these honorable forces is made up of city police officers, county sheriff’s deputies, the Illinois State Police, as well as experienced detectives who work within virtually all of these law enforcement divisions.

Each law enforcement department sets its own requirements for hire, and these often include having some college education.

Requirements to Become a Police Officer or Deputy Sheriff in Illinois

Illinois has an impressive force of 31,290 police officers and deputy sheriffs serving within cities and counties throughout the state. These entry-level law enforcement positions require candidates who are ideologically committed to making a difference. In addition to a high school education many sheriff and police departments also require or prefer candidates who are college educated:

The Chicago Police Department requires prospective police officers to have at least 60 semester college credits – the equivalent of an associate’s degree – or be able to substitute for this with either of the following:

  • Three continuous years of active-duty military service
  • One year of active-duty military service plus 30 semester college credits

The Aurora Police Department awards preference points for prospective police officers according to the following scale:

  • Bachelor’s degree – 5 points
  • Associate’s degree or 60 semester college credits – 2 points
  • Active-duty military service exceeding 180 days – 5 points

The Rockford Police Department awards five preference points to candidates with any of the following qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Associate’s degree in the subjects of Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, Fire Service, or Emergency Medical Services
  • Military service

The Naperville Police Department requires its new police officers to have a bachelor’s degree in any subject.

The DuPage County Sheriff’s Office has several routes through which candidates can qualify to become deputies:

  • Earn an associate’s degree or complete 60 semester credits of college education
  • Serve a full term in the US military
  • Have served as a law enforcement officer for at least four years
  • Have an acceptable combination of education and law enforcement or military service

The Will County Sheriff’s Office requires its new deputies to have an associate’s degree or 60 semester college credits. This can be substituted for with military service.

Requirements to Become a Trooper with the Illinois State Police

Illinois State Troopers are part of the statewide police network that provides support for local law enforcement agencies and maintains the safety of thousands of miles of interstate traffic. To join the honorable ranks of the Illinois State Police as a Trooper, candidates will need to qualify through one of the following routes:

  • Have a bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Have an associate’s degree or equivalent college coursework plus three years of either law enforcement or military experience
  • Have earned an honorable discharge from the US military, or be a member of the Illinois National Guard or the US Armed Forces reserves, and have a medal of service from being a part of a US military campaign

Becoming a Criminal Investigator or Detective in Illinois

There are a total of 2,670 detectives and criminal investigators working within specialized units of law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in Illinois. 1,880 of these professionals work in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Prior experience within the employing law enforcement agency is a common prerequisite for these careers, as is postsecondary education.

Chicago’s police officers that are assigned as detectives in criminal investigation units need to have two years of progressively increasing responsibilities as police officers and pass a civil service detective examination. Chicago Police Department investigators classified as IPRA I need to have a four-year bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice or a closely related field.

The DuPage County Sheriff’s Detective Division has several classifications for criminal investigator positions:

  • Investigative Assistant – requires at least one year of investigative law enforcement or criminal investigations work, or an equivalent amount of education and experience
  • Criminal Investigator – requires at least two years of experience in criminal investigations or investigative law enforcement, or an equivalent amount of education and experience
  • Sheriff Detective – requires five years of detective training with a public or private agency, or an equivalent amount of training and experience

To become a Criminal Justice Specialist in one of the Illinois State Police’s Criminal Investigation Units, candidates will need to have knowledge and skills that are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree with coursework emphasis on:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Law
  • Public Administration
  • Accounting
  • Political Science
  • Government
  • Sociology

Working as an FBI Special Agent based out of the Bureau’s Springfield or Chicago field office requires candidates to have a four-year bachelor’s degree in a subject such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Political Science
  • Law
  • Computer Science or IT
  • Languages

Paralegal Jobs in Illinois

With a workforce that is nearly 12,400 strong, paralegals will find that Illinois offers some of the highest average salaries of all states for professionals in this occupation. Although there are no education or certification requirements written into law for paralegals, employers will often require or prefer one of these qualifications.

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There are more than a dozen colleges, universities, and community colleges throughout Illinois that offer degree programs for prospective paralegals. These programs are offered at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and post-baccalaureate levels. Areas of study include paralegal studies as well as legal studies.

Colleges and universities that offer legal assistant educational programs approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) are located in the cities of:

  • Glen Ellyn
  • Grayslake
  • Elgin
  • East Peoria
  • Normal
  • Kankakee
  • Chicago
  • Peoria
  • Bridgeview
  • Naperville
  • Springfield
  • Rockford
  • Carbondale
  • South Holland
  • Palatine

Many employers of paralegals may also state a preference for professional certifications. These are offered by nationally-recognized organizations such as:

Employers of Paralegals in Illinois

Most paralegals in the state work in law firms, government agencies, and the legal departments of some of Illinois’s largest companies. Recent advertisements seeking paralegals at locations across Illinois help to demonstrate the real-world qualifications needed to land a job in this field:

  • The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago was recently seeking a legal assistant who was a graduate of an American Bar Association-approved paralegal training program.
  • The law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsena and Loewy in Chicago was recently looking for a legal assistant who had at least a bachelor’s degree and more than five years of corporate immigration experience.
  • Anderson and Associates in Wheaton was recently looking for a paralegal with a bachelor’s degree and the preferred qualification of a paralegal certification.
  • Catamaran in Schaumburg was recently looking for a legal assistant who had the preferred qualifications of a relevant bachelor’s degree and paralegal certification from an ABA-approved agency.
  • ULTA Salon, Cosmetics and Fragrance in Bolingbrook was recently advertising a vacancy for an experienced legal assistant who had a bachelor’s degree and the preferred qualification of a paralegal certification.

Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigator Jobs in Illinois

Illinois recognizes the skill and education that forensic science technicians must possess by offering the highest average wage in the nation for forensics experts. CSI agents and forensic scientists in Illinois are on the cutting edge of forensic technology. Careers in this field are usually found with city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Working as a forensic scientist or CSI agent requires a high level of education, training, and skill.

Requirements for Forensic Science Jobs in Illinois

To have an idea of how to prepare for forensic science careers, candidates can consult the qualification requirements for some of Illinois’ largest employers in this field:

To become a Forensic Scientist with the Illinois State Police’s Division of Forensic Services, candidates will need to have an undergraduate degree in a field such as these:

  • Natural Sciences
  • Agricultural Science
  • Animal Science
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Geology
  • Medical Technology
  • Physics
  • Pre-medicine
  • Zoology

To become an Evidence Technician with the Illinois State Police’s Division of Forensic Services candidates will need to have two years of college education in the natural or biological sciences or law enforcement, or an equivalent amount of knowledge and skill.

To become a Forensic Firearm/Toolmark Examiner with the Chicago Police Department candidates will need to have at least two years of firearm and toolmark work experience in a forensic laboratory and be college graduates with a degree in any of the following subjects:

  • Natural Science
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Forensic Science

To become a Forensic Scientist in the DuPage County Sheriff’s Forensic Investigation Division candidates will need to have a bachelor’s degree in a natural science field, a closely related subject, or an equivalent combination of experience and education. Candidates also need to have two years of case analysis experience.

Requirements for Crime Scene Investigator Jobs in Illinois

Crime Scene Investigators are also forensic experts who specialize in the collection and preservation of critical pieces of evidence. These professionals usually must come from a background of demonstrated investigative experience and relevant education:

To become a Crime Scene Investigator with the Illinois State Police’s Division of Forensic Services candidates need to have the knowledge, skill and mental development that is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in Law Enforcement or a related field. Candidates should also have two years of law enforcement experience that includes investigations. The State Police prefers candidates who are certified through the International Association for Identification, Crime Scene Certification Board.

To become a Latent Fingerprint Examiner with the Chicago Police Department candidates will need to have two years of progressively responsible experience working with fingerprints using the Henry System of fingerprint classification, or an equivalent combination of training and experience.

Forensic Science and CSI Certifications

Professionals in this field can also consider obtaining a specific type of forensic science or CSI certification through agencies such as:

Jobs with the Illinois Department of Corrections and Federal Bureau of Prisons in Illinois

There are a total of 12,340 correctional officers working throughout Illinois, with 4,400 of these professionals working in the Chicago metropolitan area alone. Correctional officers work at city, county, state, and federal correctional facilities in Illinois.

Each level of government has its own corrections agency and hiring requirements. For example, the correctional officers working for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office need to have at least 60 college credits before they will be considered for hire. Two of the largest employers of correctional officers in Illinois are the state’s Illinois Department of Corrections and the federal government’s Bureau of Prisons.

Qualifying for Jobs with the Illinois Department of Corrections

To work as a correctional officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections, candidates will need to have a clean criminal record and at least a high school education. Competitive qualification points will be added to a candidate’s application for education at a rate of:

  • 2 points for every 15 semester college credits, up to a maximum of 16 points
  • 1 additional point for an associate’s degree
  • 2 additional points for a bachelor’s degree
  • 4 additional points for a master’s degree

The Illinois Department of Corrections operates dozens of facilities throughout the state, including:

  • Big Muddy River Correctional Center in Ila
  • Menard Correctional Center
  • Pontiac Correctional Center
  • Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet
  • Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg
  • Lawrence Correctional Center in Sumner
  • Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro
  • Pinckneyville Correctional Center
  • Shawnee Correctional Center in Vienna
  • Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling

Qualifying for Jobs with the Federal Bureau of Prisons

Ensuring justice is served for criminals who are convicted of federal crimes, correctional officers working for the Bureau of Prisons need to be professional and educated. The federal classification for correctional officers starts at the General Schedule (GS)-05 level, which means candidates will need to have one of these qualifications:

  • Bachelor’s degree in any subject
  • Three years of related work experience
  • One year of specialized work experience

There are five correctional facilities that are managed by the Bureau of Prisons in Illinois:

  • Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) Chicago
  • Residential Reentry Management (RRM) Chicago
  • Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Greenville
  • U.S. Penitentiary (USP) Marion
  • Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Pekin

Jobs in Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Illinois

Homeland security and emergency management careers in Illinois have continued to expand and grow over the past decade. Professionals in this field work to ensure that all levels of government are organized and functional in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. As such, candidates may find homeland security and emergency management jobs at all levels of government, from local towns to federal agencies.

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Competitive candidates interested in applying for positions in these fields have a range of college degree qualifications to consider:

  • Public Administration
  • Government
  • Political Science
  • Law Enforcement
  • Criminal Justice
  • Police Science
  • Information Technology
  • Computer Science
  • Communications
  • Logistics

Homeland security and emergency management agencies in Illinois include:

  • Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force
  • Quad Cities Joint Terrorism Task Force
  • Springfield Joint Terrorism Task Force
  • Illinois Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center
  • Illinois Terrorism Task Force
  • Illinois Infrastructure Security Awareness Program
  • Chicago Police Department’s Crime Prevention and Information Center
  • Illinois Private Security Alliance Project
  • Office of Emergency Management and Communications in Chicago

Degrees by State