female cybersecurity specialist in front of multiple screens in threat center, one with world map

Women in Criminal Justice Careers

Search For Schools

Criminal justice has a woman problem, namely that it does not have nearly enough of them. Despite making up more than 50 percent of the modern workforce, a 2014 report from the Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau indicated that women represent less than 20 percent of police and sheriff’s patrol officers, first-line police supervisors, and information security analysts. They also make up less than 25 percent of security guards, detectives, and criminal investigators.

While the notion that women must make up ground in several male-dominated fields is well-established, studies suggest the shortage of women in criminal justice is especially harmful for the nation at large. Cities that hire a higher share of women police officers, for instance, have far fewer complaints of excessive force, which, in turn, saves taxpayers a sizable sum in legal fees. Researchers have also honed in on the positive impact women’s conflict-resolution and community-building skills impact society, which is covered at length below.

This guide highlights some of the most promising criminal justice sectors for women; the most female-friendly criminal justice degree programs; and four exceptional trailblazers in the field.

Five Criminal Justice Fields that Need More Women

Despite their gains in the modern workforce, women remain underrepresented in nearly every field of criminal justice; forensic nurses and paralegals are among the rare exceptions. Recent studies highlighting the advantages of hiring more women in such positions have spurred some industries to launch special programs focused solely on recruiting and hiring more of them in the field. Here are five fields that could benefit from counting more women in their ranks.

Law Enforcement

Women account for less than 25 percent of the traditionally male-dominated field of law enforcement, yet according to TIME (July 2016), we would all benefit from adding far more of them. Studies show women police officers almost never use excessive force: compared to their male colleagues, they are less likely to draw their weapons and more likely to look for nonphysical ways to handle potentially dangerous situations. Another significant benefit to hiring more women into law enforcement, notes TIME, is that this approach to conflict management reduces force-related court cases, saving a substantial amount of their community’s taxpayer dollars.

Federal Security

Federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security play a critical role in protecting U.S. citizens, but its workforces do not reflect the nation’s population. The New York Times (Oct. 2016) reported that women accounted for about 20 percent of FBI agents, an issue then-FBI Director James Comey said undermines criminal investigations and puts the agency out of touch with the people. The FBI has since enacted a plan to increase the overall share of women agents to at least 33 percent.

Law

Legal professions include a breadth of careers, from court clerks and paralegals to lawyers and judges. A 2017 report from the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession suggests women are still grossly underrepresented in many legal fields, especially in high-ranking firms and positions. According to the ABA, this disparity begins in the classroom. Women who pursue criminal justice degrees can work toward justice for all and battle gender inequality in a very tangible way.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is perhaps one of the fastest-growing fields of criminal justice. In fact, Forbes (2016) reported that the market for these professionals was poised to grow from $75 billion in 2015 to $170 billion by 2020; furthermore, at the time of the article’s publication, more than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs remained unfilled and job postings were up 74 percent over the previous five years.

Unfortunately, Forbes (March 2016) also found that cybersecurity “has a gender problem.” While women make up 50 percent of the U.S. workforce, they account for only 25 percent of computing professionals. The numbers are even bleaker in the field of cybersecurity where women make up just 11 percent of workers. Women who study criminal justice and computer science can help bridge this divide while taking advantage of the field’s tremendous potential.

Forensic Psychology

Unlike the other fields detailed in this section, women compose the majority of psychologists in the United States. Unfortunately, this trend does not extend to the specialty of forensic psychology. According to a groundbreaking 2014 study published in Women & Therapy, the misconception that women will always side with female victims or are less capable of managing male offenders has created a bias against female clinicians in the field. Nonetheless, women have made some strides in forensic psychology and should continue as more women explore criminal justice careers.

Trailblazers: Women Changing the Face of Criminal Justice

Marilyn Mosby, State’s Attorney for Baltimore

Marilyn Mosby is one of the youngest chief prosecutor in any major city in the United States. While she is perhaps best known for prosecuting six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray, she has prosecuted several more high-profile defendants, like Darryl Anderson and Cornell Harvey. Mosby comes from a long line of police officers: her grandfather was one of the first African-American officers in Massachusetts.

Amy Hess, Executive Assistant Director of Science and Technology at the FBI

Amy Hess is the first woman ever to lead the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch. In this role, Hess leads teams of agents who collect evidence and gather classified information. She also works with teams of digital forensic experts who specialize in facial recognition, fingerprinting, and more. According to The New York Times, Hess is a role model to other women in the FBI—a group she says is simply too small.

Erin Brockovich, Legal Clerk

Erin Brockovich showed just how much dedicated paralegals can improve people’s lives. She is perhaps best known for building an environmental case against California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company in 1993—the subject of a major movie released just seven years later. Brockovich went on to participate in several more anti-pollution lawsuits and today serves as president of Brockovich Research & Consulting.

Clea Koff, Forensic Anthropologist

Clea Koff is a forensic anthropologist commonly referred to as the “Bone Woman.” She spent several years serving the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo. While there, Koff was able to verify the methods by which victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity died and confirm their status as non-combatants.

Criminal Justice Degrees and Scholarships for Women

Women entering the field of criminal justice need the proper training—a once-intimidating prospect in a series of majors once dominated by men. Fortunately, today’s admissions candidates have many female-friendly programs from which to choose, and just as many scholarship programs designed to help them succeed.

 

Online Criminal Justice Programs That Support Women

 

Online B.S. in Criminal Justice from King University

As a well respected military college training tomorrow’s leaders, King University makes a strong case for the value more women adds to the field of criminal justice, stating that women exhibit many of the skills traditionally understocked in this male-dominated field, including proactive conflict resolution, strong communication skills, and a knack for community-building. King University’s online B.S. in criminal justice helps men and women alike establish the core knowledge one needs to succeed in a myriad of criminal justice specialties. Courses explore such themes as criminal law, american policing, and theories in criminology. This is 124-semester-hour program is available fully online. As of 2017-18, program tuition was $305 per semester-hour.

Online B.S. in Criminal Justice from Texas Woman’s University

In a traditionally male-dominated field like criminal justice, building a strong network and support system of fellow women can be invaluable. This is precisely what Texas Woman’s University’s online B.S. in criminal justice offers. Not only do women have an opportunity to build relationships with peers as passionate about the field as they are, but they also can learn from experienced female instructors who serve as mentors and role models. This 120-semester-hour, fully online program offers coursework such as criminal investigation; women, crime, and justice; and social inequality. Readers can refer to TWU’s online Tuition Estimator for personalized cost information.

Online B.S. in Criminal Justice from Norwich University

Norwich University is recognized for its excellence in online teaching: in 2017, U.S. News & World Report ranked its online bachelor’s degrees among some of the best in the nation. The school is also a strong advocate for hiring more women in the criminal justice field. Norwich’s online B.S. in criminal justice is designed to help women (and men) start or advance careers in law enforcement and the courts. Its CJ program is a completion program, which means students can complete and transfer up to 90 undergraduate credits from another institution, reducing the program’s average time-to-completion to between 18 and 24 months. Courses include homeland security and intelligence; emergency and disaster relief operations; and cold case investigations. According to the school’s official website, online criminal justice students’ total estimated program cost as of 2017-18 was $8,400 for 30 trimester credits; $16,400 for 60 credits; and $24, 650 for up to 90 units.

 

Criminal Justice Scholarships for Women

 

  • Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) Scholarship Program: The WIFLE’s mission is to achieve gender equity in federal law enforcement by supporting women at all stages of their careers. It offers a variety of scholarships to qualifying women. Average award: $2,500.
  • Women’s Research and Education Institute Congressional Fellowship on Women and Public Policy: The Women’s Research and Educational Institute’s Congressional Fellowship on Women and Public Policy program offers more than 300 women the opportunity to travel to Washington DC to work on issues that affect them, including gender equality in the military, law enforcement, and other criminal justice fields. Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $1,450.
  • (ISC)² Foundation Women’s Cybersecurity Scholarship: The (ISC)² works to diversify the field of information security by supporting underrepresented students. This program offers scholarships of up to $10,000 for women who wish to work in the industry.
  • The Jeannette Rankin Foundation Scholarships: The Jeannette Rankin Foundation’s scholarship program is ideal for low-income women, age 35 and over, who want to invest in a bachelor’s degree in any technical or vocational field, including criminal justice, cybersecurity, and more. Awards vary by individual case.
  • The Education Foundation for Women in Accounting’s Women in Transition Scholarship: The EFWA’s Women in Transition program offers scholarships of up to $16,000 so that women who are the primary source of their household’s income can pursue a bachelor’s degree in accounting, which would include programs in forensic accounting.

Criminal Justice Careers

Women considering careers in criminal justice have no shortage of options. Criminal justice is perhaps one of the most versatile degrees women can earn; graduates can use them as stepping stones into many different career paths. Some examples by field include:

Law Enforcement

  • Police and Sheriff’s Officers
  • Police Chiefs and Administrators
  • Criminal Investigators and Detectives
  • Private Detectives
  • Federal Security Agents
  • Prison and Probation Officers

Law

  • Court Clerks and Reporters
  • Stenographers
  • Paralegals
  • Mediators and Arbitrators
  • Lawyers
  • Judges
  • City or State Prosecutors
  • Criminal Psychologists

Forensics

  • Forensic Scientists and Analysts
  • Forensic Researchers
  • Forensic Nurses
  • Forensic Psychologists
  • Forensic Accountants

Information Security

  • Cybersecurity Specialists
  • IT Security Engineers
  • Information Assurance Analysts
  • Security Systems Administration

 

Criminal Justice Education Requirements, Earnings, and Career Outlook

 

Women can pursue a number of careers in criminal justice. As with any other field, earnings, job potential, and training requirements vary. The following table provides this information for some of the most common careers in the field, as reported by the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (2016). Readers can visit the Bureau’s Labor Force Statistics Population Survey to find information on women’s earnings specifically. Please note that between 2014 and 2024, the average projected growth across all U.S. occupations is 6.5 percent.

OccupationProjected Growth in Openings (2014-2024)Median Salary (May 2016)Typical Entry-Level Degree or Diploma
Forensic Science Technicians27%$60,690Bachelor’s degree
Law Teachers22%$134,530Ph.D. or JD
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers21%$67,040Master’s degree
Information Security Analysts18%$96,040Bachelor’s degree
Forensic Nurses*16%$72,180Bachelor’s degree
Forensic Accountants*11%$76,730Bachelor’s degree
Arbitrators and Mediators9%$72,730Bachelor’s degree
Paralegals8%$49,500Associate degree
Lawyers6%$118,160Doctoral or professional degree
Police and Detectives4%$61,600Associate degree

*Information is relevant to all specialties in the field, not just forensics.

 

Professional Organizations for Women in Criminal Justice

 

Professional organizations do more than help women connect with others in their field: these associations provide career support, networking events, and training opportunities. Many also invest in research or public information campaigns that advocate for the advancement of women in the field. Here are some of the criminal justice organizations designed for women: