The field of criminal justice receives less notoriety for its earnings potential than other fields, such as medicine, biotech, or business. And it is no secret that people do not go into criminal justice for the pay. But if you know where to look and have completed the proper education, 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.
Ranking the High Paying Criminal Justice Jobs for 2020
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 – Attorney or Lawyer
Median Annual Salary: $120,910
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 2018 was $120,910 or $58.13 per hour. Since the majority of lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices, earnings potential varies.
How many 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 firm 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. However, expect to work long hours, especially when first starting out in the industry. But this is certainly one of the best criminal justice jobs for the money.
#2 – Judge and Hearing Officers
Median Annual Salary: $117,190
Judges, magistrates, and hearing officers are among the high paying criminal justice jobs on our list. In fact, the job titles earn a #2 spot. As of May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported judges and hearing officers earned a median pay of $117,190. The pay is likely in accordance with job responsibilities, as judges and hearing officers oversee legal processes in court. According to BLS, administrative law judges earned $99,850 per year, while magistrate judges earned $133,920. Industry impacts pay for judges and magistrates. In fact, the top industry (state government, excluding education and hospitals) paid judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates $151,900 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.
#3 – Intelligence Analyst
Median Annual Salary: $113,920
High paying criminal justice jobs span a wide range of industries and job responsibilities. A career as an intelligence analyst, also referred to as operations research analysts, falls under the category of jobs for individuals with a degree in criminal justice. Most intelligence analysts work for the federal government. According to 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. BLS also reports the median annual wage for operations research and intelligence analysts is $113,920. The highest ten percent of earners made more than $136,250 per year. The role of an intelligence analyst is to examine evidence and ensure it is processed accordingly. Intelligence analysts work behind the scenes and take little credit for their analyzation efforts, but are critical in solving crimes. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs.
#4 – 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 due to the wide range of job details, the average annual salary hovers around $100,000. Of course, pay is contingent on experience. An FBI specialist with a decade of experience will earn more than an FBI specialist with five years of experience.
However, 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 in excess of $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.
#5 – Private Investigator
Median Annual Salary: $89,200
Private investigator jobs are among high paying criminal justice careers for those who are educated and experienced. Private investigators, also known as private detectives, work in a variety of areas, depending on their case and assignment. Some PIs work for themselves, while 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 $90,000 per year. Government agencies pay more than finance and insurance, but PIs working for themselves have the greatest earnings potential.
Private detectives and investigators often work long and irregular hours. 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. For those who work for themselves, overtime pay is not an option.
#6 – FBI Agent
Median Annual Salary: $87,130
FBI agents work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and are 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 $87,130. The highest ten percent of FBI agents earned $106,090.
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. 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 degree in criminal justice and law enforcement experience are necessary to even be admitted to an FBI training academy. However, once you’re in, you are promised a lucrative career in one of the best criminal justice jobs.
#7 – Forensic Psychologist
Median Annual Salary: $85,000
Among the high paying criminal justice jobs, forensic psychologists earn top dollar for their unique skills and advanced knowledge of human behavior. Job roles vary by industry and assignment. 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.
BLS reports the median annual wage for all psychologists is $79,010 as of May 2018. Forensic psychologists earn a slightly higher annual wage, likely due to their specialized skills. The top industry to be employed as a psychologist, according to BLS, is the government. Government psychologists earn an average median wage of $96,410. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs available today.
#8 – Special Intelligence Analyst
Median Annual Salary: $83,610
When people think of criminal justice, they likely picture crime scenes from movies and popular television shows, such as Mindhunter. While Hollywood’s depiction of special intelligence analysts is relatively accurate, much of the job role has been romanticized. Ranking among the high paying criminal justice careers on our list is the special intelligence analyst, also referred to as the intelligence analyst. Most of these specialized analysts work for the FBI and other forms of government. Often their time is spent gathering and analyzing data, showing the agency where potential data breaches and security risks exist.
BLS reports management analysts earn an average annual pay of $83,610, though some of the top-ranking FBI analysts earn over $150,000 per year. Analysts usually receive a base salary and lucrative end-of-year bonuses. For self-employed analysts, pay comes directly from the client. Most analysts work more than the traditional forty hours per week and are often meeting tight deadlines.
#9 – Criminologist
Median Annual Salary: $82,050
Criminologists are among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Earning an average annual wage of $82,050, criminologists have the potential to make even more after a few years of experience. According to BLS, criminologists are considered sociologists. They 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.
As stated above, experience impacts earnings. However, another factor that can improve the earnings of a criminologist is picking the right industry in which to work. State government, excluding education and hospitals, pay criminologists an average median wage of $92,040. That’s nearly 10K more than the average annual wage for all criminologists and sociologists. BLS also reports the next top paying industry for criminologists is research and development in social sciences and humanities, which also pays over $90,000 per year.
#10 – Financial Examiner
Median Annual Salary: $80,180
Similar to the role of intelligence analyst, financial examiners work behind the scenes of law enforcement and are among the high paying criminal justice careers on our list for 2020. These highly trained professionals excel at accounting, math, and other financial number processing systems. Their role is to assist law enforcement professionals and police in identifying and proving financial fraud, such as money laundering or embezzlement. They are employed by the federal government, state government, the insurance industry, or other agencies. 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 $122,010.
Other top-paying industries for financial examiners include securities, commodity contracts, and financial investments and management companies. Both industries pay higher than the median annual salary of $80,180 for all financial examiners.
#11 – Transit and Railroad Police
Median Annual Salary: $74,030
Transit and railroad police are among the highest paid law enforcement professionals. They earn a spot on our list of high paying criminal justice jobs due to the median annual salary recorded by BLS of $74,030. BLS also reports the highest ten percent of all police and detectives, including transit and railroad police, earned $106,090 as of May 2018. 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, 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.
#12 – Police Officer
Median Annual Salary: $63,380
Police officers are listed among high paying criminal justice careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for police officers was $63,380. The highest ten percent of earners made $106,090. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned an average median pay of $61,380, 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 or junior colleges, four-year institutions, and state universities offer law enforcement programs. Majoring in criminal justice and earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will help you land a job as a police officer. Additional training includes the completion of rigorous physical and personal qualification standards.
#13 – Fire Investigator
Median Annual Salary: $62,510
According to BLS, fire investigators and inspectors are among the high paying criminal justice careers. As of May 2018, BLS reported the median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $62,510. The highest ten percent earned more than $95,330, making the profession one of the highest paying for criminal justice careers.
Fire investigators are responsible for collecting and analyzing 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 they have experience working with fires. Most fire investigators are former firefighters. They have completed postsecondary educational programs, often acquiring a two- or four-year degree, and have conducted on-the-job training under a mentorship.
#14 – Criminal Justice Professor
Median Annual Salary: $61,900
Listed among 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, as of May 2018, of $61,900. However, wages vary greatly 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, BLS reports state colleges and universities pay their faculty members an average of $81,120 annually. Private colleges pay professors an average annual median wage of $78,540.
While the median annual salary for instructors teaching criminal justice may seem low in comparison to the overall average, pay by experience is a factor. The more experience a criminal justice professor holds, the higher the earnings. In fact, the highest ten percent of all postsecondary instructors, according to BLS, is $175,110. If you enjoy teaching, this is one of the best criminal justice jobs out there for the money.
#15 – Security Manager
Median Annual Salary: $60,700
Security managers working for government and state agencies are among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Earning an average median salary of over $60,000, security managers oversee the security needs of buildings and property. While the role of security manager is needed in a variety of areas, such as casinos, jewelry stores, malls, and private celebrity detail, government and state agencies pay the best wages.
Since this is a management role, 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 ensure rules in the building or on the property are enforced. They are the person in charge of deterring criminal activity within the confines of their work place.
#16 – Corrections Manager
Median Annual Salary: $60,500
Essential roles of the criminal justice system are the correctional manager and officer. Among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list is the corrections manager. This person is responsible for incarcerated individuals, corrections officers, and a part of the corrections building. Some corrections managers actually oversee and manage the entire corrections facility, while others manage wings or areas of the building. Corrections managers work in correctional facilities, such as detention centers, jails, and prisons. They are hired to ensure public safety and the safety of their team. Also, they ensure the safety of the prisoners themselves.
The median annual salary for corrections managers is $60,500 per year. The annual wage varies by location and experience. Seasoned corrections managers with ten or more years of experience earn close to $70,000 annually.
#17 – United States Postal Inspector
Median Annual Salary: $58,760
When you think of high paying criminal justice jobs, postal inspectors may not come to mind. But, United States postal inspectors earn an average median wage of $58,760. 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 as needed and are sworn federal law enforcement officers who carry firearms and make arrests.
According to BLS, the median annual wage for this profession as of May 2018 is over $58,000. The top ten percent of earners working as postal inspectors made $62,520. Most postal inspectors work full time. Holidays and weekends may also be required. Since mail is delivered six days a week, inspectors are often needed on Saturdays.
#18 – Fish and Game Warden
Median Annual Salary: $57,710
Fish and game wardens made our list of high paying criminal justice jobs. This unique criminal justice career is designed to serve state and federal agencies as commissioned law enforcement professionals. 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 2018 was $57,710. The top ten percent of fish and game warden professionals earned $80,140. Education and experience impact earnings the most. Educated fish and game wardens earn the highest wages. 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.
#19 – Probation Officer
Median Annual Salary: $53,020
According to BLS, probation officers are among the highest paying criminal justice careers. In May 2018, BLS reported the average annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $53,020. The highest paid ten percent of probation officers earned $94,770. Local and state government agencies employ the majority of probation officers and offer the highest earnings on average. Local government agencies pay $58,040 on average and state government agencies pay $50,120 on average.
Most probation officers work overtime hours. This leads to additional pay. Some of these workers are required to be on-call and must respond to law enforcement issues 24 hours a day. However, overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses keep employees happy. In some circumstances, probation officers may be required 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.
#20 – Immigration or Customs Enforcement Agent
Median Annual Salary: $53,000
Immigration and customs enforcement agents, also referred to as customs officials, land a spot on our list of highest paying criminal justice careers. Customs agents are security officers that man the borders of the United States. Often working as border patrol agents or immigration officials, the job requires education in criminal justice. Border patrol agents are responsible for stopping criminals from leaving the country, as well as enforcing immigration laws. BLS reports an average median annual salary for immigration or customs enforcement agents as $53,000 per year.
Customs officials earn higher pay by experience. This means that step 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 on the high side of wages. These veterans earn over $60,000 per year.
Related to best criminal justice jobs:
- Criminal Justice Online Programs
- Accelerated Master’s Criminal Justice Online
- Master’s Criminal Justice Online
- PhD Criminal Justice Online
- Homeland Security Degree Online
- Paralegal Online Programs