Criminal Justice PhD – Exploring Doctorate Programs

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Dr. Emily Wright is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. She has written for many scholarly journals and publications. She is currently working on a research project with Dr. Abby Fagan (funded by a National Institute on Drug Abuse grant) entitled “Violent Victimization, Neighborhood Context, and Adolescent Drug Use”.

Dr. Ojmarrh Mitchell is in Associate Professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Criminology. He has also contributed to numerous refereed journals and texts and in 2011, was awarded a grant by the National Institute of Justice’s W.E.B. Du Bois Fellowship Program. This grant enabled him to commence a research project entitled “Race and Drug Arrests: Specific Deterrence and Collateral Consequences”.

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What Dr. Wright and Dr. Mitchell have in common is they both earned a Criminal Justice PhD. (Dr. Wright earned her Ph.D., Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati in 2008; Dr. Mitchell earned his Ph.D. Criminology and Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland in 2003). If you wish to gain a deeper understanding of crime (in terms of causation, prevention, effects on society and other areas) and the criminal justice system, and apply this knowledge and skill base to research, teaching, public service and/or other professional capacities, then pursuing a Criminal Justice PhD is apropos.

PhD Program Information

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Admission Requirements

Admission requirements to be accepted into a Criminal Justice Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) program vary by university. Some institutes require applicants to have a Master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field (or in some cases applicants are given preference if they have a Master’s) and other institutes simply require a Bachelor’s degree. Some universities also offer joint Master’s-Ph.D. programs.

Other common admission requirements for entry into a Criminal Justice doctorate program include:

  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores
  • Transcripts from all post secondary education
  • Letters of reference
  • Personal statement of goals
  • Copy of an academic paper written by the applicant (i.e. a portion of one’s Master’s thesis, a paper written for a past university course, a scholarly article, etc.)

What Does a Criminal Justice PhD Involve?

A PhD takes several years to complete and may vary according to student and institution. Georgia State University, for example, states that its Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice and Criminology generally takes between three and five years to complete if students already have a Master’s. Numerous universities also state a time limit, such as between seven and nine years, to complete the entire doctorate program.

Generally a Criminal Justice PhD involves:

  • Required courses (delving into areas such as criminal justice theory, quantitative research methods, criminal justice policies, statistics, the criminal justice system, teaching experience, etc).
  • Elective courses (allowing students to concentrate in one or more areas, such as criminology, juvenile justice, law and society, corrections, law enforcement, the court system, policy analysis, community corrections, social class, gender and race).
  • Comprehensive Exams
  • Dissertation

The dissertation process involves proposing a criminal justice topic and conducting thorough research, writing the thesis and defending it in front of the doctoral committee, faculty of the department and fellow students. This is an excellent opportunity for students to pursue a unique topic they are passionate about and adding new insights to the current criminal justice knowledge base. For example, when Dr. Mitchell [see above] completed his Ph.D., he completed a dissertation entitled “Race and Sentencing: Making Sense of the Inconsistencies”; Dr. Wright [see above] completed a Criminal Justice PhD entitled “Neighborhood Context and Intimate Partner Violence”.

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Career Opportunities

“The Ph.D. degree program in Criminal Justice is designed to produce criminal justice scholars who will provide the future leadership for the field in academia, private and governmental research agencies, and policy-level positions in criminal justice and related organizations,” states Temple University’s Graduate School. Simply put, those who complete a Criminal Justice PhD come out with the ability to inspire future students, add significant and new findings and improve criminal justice policies.

Specifically some career opportunities for those who complete a Ph.D. in criminal justice include:

  • University faculty member (professor-researcher)
  • Published scholar/researcher
  • Policy analyst
  • Criminologist
  • High-ranking criminal investigator
  • Leader of a law enforcement, correctional or other criminal justice agency
  • Consultant

(Earning a PhD is also an excellent way for criminal justice professionals to advance their careers within the same specific field they are currently working in).