The field of criminal justice is not known for its earnings potential like other fields such as medicine, biotech, or business. Plus, it is no secret that people do not work in the criminal justice system for the pay. If you know where to look and have completed the proper education, however, you will find high paying criminal justice jobs. They do exist. In fact, some of the highest paying criminal justice careers can exceed six figures in annual wages. These jobs have attractive benefits packages and year-end bonuses to boot. Read on to find out more about the criminology major salary potential.
Ranking the High Paying Criminal Justice Jobs
We researched some of the highest paying criminal justice careers. The salaries listed below are based on the most recent figures published by reputable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and PayScale – a global salary and compensation data gathering organization. Our findings are listed below. Here, you will find some of the highest paying criminal justice jobs available.
#1 – Judge and Hearing Officers
Median Annual Salary: $128,710
Judges, magistrates, and hearing officers are among the high paying criminal justice jobs on our list. In fact, the job titles earn a #1 spot. As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported judges and hearing officers earned a median pay of $128,710. This pay likely reflects arduous job responsibilities in the criminal justice system. For example, judges and hearing officers oversee legal processes in court during civil and criminal trials. According to the BLS, administrative law judges earned $102,550 per year, while magistrate judges earned $148,030. Industry impacts pay for judges and magistrates. In fact, the top industry (state government, excluding education and hospitals) paid judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates $170,840 annually.
To become a judge, you will need a law degree and work experience as a lawyer. In addition to graduating law school, judges must pass a highly competitive examination issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Additional certification or licensing may be required by the state in which you reside. Judges can earn high wages. By gaining experience as an attorney, you can set yourself on course for high earnings potential.
#2 – Attorney or Lawyer
Median Annual Salary: $127,990
While on the search for the highest paying criminal justice jobs, we found that attorneys and lawyers had the most favorable earnings potential. Even starting out in this career pays well. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average pay for attorneys and lawyers in May 2021 was $127,990 or $61.54 per hour. Since the majority of lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices and law firms, earnings potential varies.
In this justice system role, years of experience impacts earnings the most. A lawyer fresh out of law school might earn $60,000 the first year, while a newly appointed partner will earn six figures and have access to lucrative bonuses. Also, attorneys who own and run their own law firms have the potential to earn much more than the median pay listed by BLS. For example, the highest ten percent of lawyers earned $208,000 per year. You can expect to work long hours, though, especially when first starting out in the industry or when preparing for court proceedings in civil and criminal trials. Still, this is certainly one of the best jobs with a criminal justice degree for the money. Many attorneys study political science or criminal law, and a professional or doctoral degree is required for the job.
#3 – FBI Specialist
Median Annual Salary: $100,000
FBI specialists or special agents are among the highest paying criminal justice careers. A step up from the FBI agent pay scale, FBA specialists are highly trained FBI agents that work on special operations or task forces. While it is difficult to narrow down the exact pay for FBI specialists, the average annual salary hovers around $100,000. Of course, pay is based on experience. An FBI specialist with a decade of experience will earn more than an FBI specialist with five years of experience, for example.
Moreover, the six-figure base salary does not include bonuses and raises often issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Top specialists with seniority and years of experience can earn more than $137,000 per year. In addition to top earnings, FBI employees receive benefits and attractive retirement options, making this job one of the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list.
#4 – FBI Agent
Median Annual Salary: $93,970
FBI agents work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and this is one of the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Due to the nature of their job, FBI agents are paid well. In fact, BLS reports the median annual wage for FBI agents or law enforcement officers working for the federal government is $93,970.
FBI agents are a group of elite law enforcement professionals. In fact, only a small number of the best officers and law enforcement professionals earn recruitment level. Even recruitment does not guarantee a job working as an FBI agent, though. The competition is fierce. And while the pay is high, the road to these earnings takes time. FBI agents must pass strict physical examinations and background tests. Also, a college degree in criminal justice and law enforcement experience are necessary to attend an FBI training academy. However, once you’re in, you can look forward to a lucrative career in one of the best criminal justice jobs.
#5 – Criminologist
Median Annual Salary: $92,910
Criminologists are among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Earning an average annual wage of $92,910, criminologists have the potential to make even more after a few years of experience. According to BLS, these types of criminal justice professionals are considered sociologists. They conduct research and study the anatomy of crime, focusing on its causes and effects. Similar to forensic psychologists, criminologists are also criminal profilers. Much of the job is spent analyzing crime scene materials, synthesizing information, and gathering data.
#6 – Financial Examiner
Median Annual Salary: $81,410
Similar to the role of intelligence analyst, financial examiners work behind the scenes of law enforcement. They also happen to be among the high paying criminal justice careers on our list. These highly trained professionals excel at accounting, math, and other financial number processing systems. Their role is to assist other law enforcement professionals and police in analyzing financial records to prosecute financial fraud such as money laundering or embezzlement.
The financial examiner is often employed by the federal government, state government, the insurance industry, or other law enforcement agencies within the justice system. However, the highest paying industry for financial examiners is the federal government. According to BLS, the federal government pays financial examiners a median annual wage of $125,840. Other top-paying industries for a financial examiner include securities, commodity contracts, and financial investments and management companies. These industries pay higher than the median annual salary of $81,410 for all financial examiners.
#7 – Intelligence Analyst
Median Annual Salary: $72,429
High paying criminal justice jobs span a wide range of industries and job responsibilities. A career as an intelligence analyst falls under the category of jobs for individuals with a degree in criminal justice. Most intelligence analysts work for the federal government. According to the BLS, the federal government is the highest paying industry for operations and intelligence analysts.
The vast majority of these highly specialized analysts work for the FBI, though some work in other parts of the federal government. PayScale reports the average wage for intelligence analysts as $72,429. The role of an intelligence analyst is to examine evidence from a crime scene and ensure it is processed accordingly. Intelligence analysts work behind the scenes and take little credit for their analyzation efforts. Still, they are critical in solving crimes. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs in the criminal justice system.
#8 – Forensic Psychologist
Median Annual Salary: $72,285
Another high paying criminal justice job, forensic psychologists earn top dollar for their unique skills and advanced knowledge of human behavior. Job roles vary by industry and assignment. For instance, the job may entail a combination of clinical work and data analysis. Most individuals working as forensic psychologists have earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology with a specialization in criminal justice. Common job responsibilities include interviewing suspects, counseling the incarcerated, and working with law enforcement, attorneys, and the court system to help prosecute criminals.
PayScale reports the median annual wage for forensic psychologists to be $72,285. Forensic psychologists earn a slightly higher annual wage, than some other types of psychologists likely due to their specialized skills and master’s degree or higher- level education. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs available today.
#9 – Security Manager
Median Annual Salary: $71,922
Security managers who work for government and state agencies have some of the highest paying jobs in criminal justice on our list. Earning an average median salary of almost $72,000, security managers oversee the security needs of buildings and property. The role of security manager is critical in a variety of areas such as casinos, jewelry stores, malls, and private celebrity detail; but government and state agencies pay the best wages.
Since this is a management role in the criminal justice field, security managers often oversee teams of security guards. With this responsibility comes hiring and vetting guards, checking credentials, and organizing work schedules. The key role of a security manager is to enforce the rules in the building or on the property. The security manager is the person in charge of deterring criminal activity within the confines of their workplace.
#10 – Police Officer
Median Annual Salary: $66,020
Police officers are listed among high paying criminal justice careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median pay for police officers was $66,020. The highest ten percent of earners made $106,090. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned an average median pay of $64,610, slightly lower than the average median pay for all other police officers.
A career as a police officer is a lifetime commitment. Education required for the job includes a college degree and the completion of the police academy. Many community colleges, four-year institutions, and state universities offer law enforcement programs for police officers and corrections officers. Majoring in criminal justice and earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will help you land one of these highest paying jobs in law enforcement. Additional training includes the completion of rigorous physical and personal qualification standards.
#11 – United States Postal Inspector
Median Annual Salary: $64,964
When you think of high paying criminal justice jobs or even criminal justice degrees, postal inspectors may not come to mind. However, United States postal inspectors earn an average median wage of $64,964, according to PayScale. As with many law enforcement jobs, pay is commiserate with experience, though. Some seasoned postal inspectors can make up to $70,000 per year.
The inspector role is much different than the role of a postal service worker or carrier. Postal inspectors are actually federal law enforcement agents who enforce laws governed by the U.S. Postal Service. Their duties include investigating criminal matters that involve mail fraud and theft. They perform routine audits, for instance. These criminal justice professionals are also sworn federal law enforcement officers who carry firearms and make arrests just like other law enforcement professionals. Most postal inspectors work full time. Holidays and weekends may also be required. Since the postal service delivers mail six days a week, inspectors are often needed on Saturdays.
#12 – Transit and Railroad Police
Median Annual Salary: $64,930
Transit and railroad police officers are among the highest paid law enforcement professionals in the criminal justice field. They earn a spot on our list of high paying criminal justice jobs due to the median annual salary of $64,930 recorded by the BLS. The BLS also reports the highest ten percent of all police and detectives, including transit and railroad police, earned $105,540 as of May 2021. Earnings potential varies by location and job type, but increases with experience. This means a transit or railroad police officer will earn more as he or she becomes more experienced on the job.
The role of the transit or railroad police is to patrol transit facilities or railroad yards. They combat trespassing and human trafficking, help prevent theft and violence, and protect the public. Most of these specialized police officers hold degrees in criminal justice and have received law enforcement training. In certain geographical areas, knowledge of a foreign language, such as Spanish, is highly beneficial.
#13 – Criminal Justice Professor
Median Annual Salary: $64,600
Listed among some of the high paying criminal justice careers is the criminal justice and law enforcement professor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement instructors earned an average median salary of $64,600 in 2021. However, wages vary by institution type. Postsecondary instructors typically earn more working at colleges or universities than they do in community colleges or other types of schools. Again, the BLS reports state colleges and universities pay their faculty members an average of $81,250 per year. Private colleges pay professors an average annual median wage of $79,820.
While the median annual salary for instructors teaching criminal justice may seem low in comparison to the overall average, experience is a factor. That is, the more experience a criminal justice professor holds, the higher their earnings. In fact, the highest ten percent of all postsecondary instructors, according to the BLS, is $172,130. If you enjoy teaching, this is one of the best criminal justice jobs out there for the money.
#14 – Fire Investigator
Median Annual Salary: $63,080
According to the BLS, fire investigators and inspectors are among the high paying criminal justice careers. As of May 2021, BLS reported the median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $63,080. The highest ten percent earned more than $100,730, making the profession one of the highest paying jobs for criminal justice careers.
Fire investigators collect evidence from scenes of fires and explosions that cause fires. They typically reconstruct the scene of arsons or fires, collect evidence, and send their findings to laboratories for testing. Their job is to determine the cause and origin of fires. Since fire investigators study fire origins, it is important that these criminal justice professionals have experience working with fires. Thus, most fire investigators are former firefighters. Often, they hold a two or four-year degree, and have conducted on-the-job training under a mentorship.
#15 – Forensic Science Technician
Median Annual Salary: $61,930
When people think of criminal justice, they likely picture crime scenes from movies and popular television shows, such as CSI. While Hollywood’s depiction of forensic science is relatively accurate, much of the job role has been romanticized. Still, the position of forensic science technician makes our list of the high paying criminal justice careers available today. Most of these specialized technicians work for the FBI and other forms of government. Often their time is spent gathering and analyzing evicence from a crime scene to send back to the laboratory for further analysis. The findings of a forensic science technician are often crucial in criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Forensic science technicians are paid quite well despite needing only a bachelor’s degree to begin working in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual wage for this criminal justice profession to be almost $62,000 per year. Top earners in the field made well over six figures in 2021.
#16 – Fish and Game Warden
Median Annual Salary: $60,730
Fish and game wardens made our list of high paying criminal justice jobs. Professionals who pursue this unique criminal justice career will serve state and federal agencies as commissioned law enforcement agents. Fish and game wardens are responsible for managing and protecting wildlife as well as tracking and apprehending poachers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for fish and game wardens in 2021 was $60,730. The top ten percent of fish and game warden professionals earned $78,330. Educated fish and game wardens earn the highest wages, and experience can also improve earnings. For example, fish and game wardens with one to three years of experience earn much less than colleagues with ten years of experience. If you enjoy the outdoors and wildlife, this career will be one of your top options among best criminal justice jobs for the money.
#17 – Probation Officer
Median Annual Salary: $60,250
According to BLS, probation officers are among the highest paying criminal justice careers. In May 2021, the BLS reported that the average annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was over $60,000. The highest paid ten percent of probation officers earned $99,090. Government agencies employ most probation officers and offer the highest earnings on average. Local government agencies pay $61,780 on average and state government agencies pay $53,330 on average.
Like other types of corrections officers, most probation officers work overtime hours. This leads to extra pay. Some of these workers are required to be on-call and must respond to law enforcement issues 24 hours a day. Still, overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses keep employees happy. In some circumstances, the job requires probation officers to travel, which will contribute to overtime and additional work hours. To qualify for employment as a probation officer, plan on having a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a closely related discipline.
#18 – Immigration or Customs Enforcement Agent
Median Annual Salary: $59,789
Immigration and customs enforcement agents, also referred to as customs officials, land a spot on our list of highest paying criminal justice careers. In the criminal justice system, customs agents are security officers that man the borders of the United States. The job requires extensive education and training in criminal justice. Border patrol agents are responsible for stopping criminals from leaving the country and enforcing immigration laws. The BLS reports an average median annual salary for immigration or customs enforcement agents as just under $60,000 per year.
Customs officials earn higher pay by experience. This means that raises are likely as an employee gains more experience. For example, an immigration official or customs enforcement agent with five years of experience will earn less than a colleague with ten years of experience. Seasoned immigration and customs enforcement agents with 20 years of experience will earn higher wages. These veterans can earn up to $85,000 per year.
#19 – Private Investigator
Median Annual Salary: $59,380
Private investigator jobs are among high paying criminal justice careers for those who are highly trained and experienced. Private investigators, also known as private detectives, work in a variety of areas, depending on their case and assignment. Some private investigators work for themselves, for instance. Others work for government agencies, finance and insurance companies, or investigative services. According to BLS, the top ten percent of private investigators earned close to $99,000 per year. Government agencies pay more than finance and insurance, but PIs working for themselves in the private sector have the greatest earnings potential.
Private investigators and detectives often work long and irregular hours to collect evidence for their cases. We’ve all seen movies where the private detective sits in a car overnight, loading up on coffee while watching a house for movement. Surveillance of people usually takes place outside normal work hours. Private investigators may work weekends, nights, and holidays as they comb through financial records, for instance. For those who work for themselves, overtime pay is not an option. Still, a bachelor’s degree is not required for this position. All that is necessary is a high school diploma and some related experience.
#20 – Corrections Manager
Median Annual Salary: $44,880
Some of the essential roles in the criminal justice system are the correctional manager and corrections officers. Among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list is the corrections manager. This person is responsible for providing supervision and management of incarcerated individuals, corrections officers, and a part of the corrections building. Some corrections managers actually oversee and manage the entire corrections facility. Others manage specific wings or areas of the building. Corrections managers work in correctional facilities alongside correctional officers in detention centers, jails, and prisons. Law enforcement agencies hire them to ensure public safety and the safety of their team of corrections officers. They also ensure the safety of the prisoners themselves.
The median annual salary for corrections managers is $44,880 per year. This annual wage varies by location and experience, though. Seasoned corrections managers with twenty or more years of experience in the criminal justice field earn over $60,000 each year.
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This concludes our list of the highest paying criminal justice jobs.