13 January, 2021
Criminal behavior is a complex phenomenon and ranges from large-scale political corruption and interpersonal violence to petty theft. The FBI estimates that more than 1.2 million violent crimes and 6.9 million property crimes occured in the U.S. in 2019, and these numbers likely undercount the true prevalence of criminal behavior, which is not always reported to law enforcement. By digging into the details behind these figures, researchers examine the reasons for crimes, the long-term effects on victims, and the challenges that police and policymakers must confront.
The disciplines of criminology and criminal justice offer interconnected perspectives that can unlock valuable insights, resulting in safer and fairer communities. This article will explore the distinctions between these interrelated areas of study as well as the ways they complement one another. You will learn how pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice or criminology can offer you the opportunity to lead improvements in public policy, community outreach, and law enforcement. We will also discuss the advantages of a well-rounded, multidisciplinary program that features skills and concepts from both criminology and criminal justice.
Criminal Justice vs. Criminology
As academic disciplines, criminal justice and criminology examine different aspects of crime. Criminology is an integrative academic discipline that draws upon insights from other social and hard sciences (including psychology, political science, public policy, and economics) to analyze the underlying factors of illegal activities and criminals themselves. Criminal justice, on the other hand, focuses on studying the institutions involved in crime prevention, law enforcement, and corrections and driving evidence-based crime policy.
Criminology scholars delve into questions about where, when, and why crimes occur, as well as the consequences of crime for individuals, social groups, and communities. Their research may explore specific types of illicit acts like human trafficking or the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals that fail to meet medical standards. The discipline encompasses fields such as victimology, which concentrates on the psychological effects that victims experience as well as their relationships with offenders and the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, criminal justice research highlights the strategies that most effectively promote public safety and reveal practices that may enable inequality, injustice, and abuses of power. For example, Professor Jack McDevitt and Professor Amy Farrell at the Institute on Race and Justice in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University have worked with police departments to conduct a series of studies on racial profiling and other inequalities within the justice system. Most recently, McDevitt and Farrell gathered two years of data on traffic and pedestrian stops in Kansas, looking for signs of systemic bias that indicate a need for policy changes.
Learning more about law enforcement policies and practices can pave the way for a variety of policy improvements within departments and agencies. Distinguished Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Anthony M. Braga led an initiative from Northeastern University’s Center on Crime and Community Resilience that trained police departments in procedural justice. This approach strives to build trust through treating the members of a community with dignity, listening to them respectfully, and maintaining neutrality when making decisions.
What Is the Difference Between Criminology and Criminal Justice Master’s Degrees?
Despite obvious overlap between criminology and criminal justice, students who earn a master’s in criminal justice may study different issues and pursue alternate career paths from those working toward a criminology degree.
Criminology curricula tend to emphasize the research and statistical skills that help students build a deeper understanding of the individual, social, economic, and psychological factors involved in interpersonal violence and property crime. Courses may examine theories of place to understand how the relationships in a community either enable or prevent illicit behavior. Criminology students become familiar with analysis and evaluation methods that prepare them to succeed as leaders in academia, as analysts in law enforcement agencies, and as research directors in correctional organizations.
Criminal justice master’s programs lean toward providing an extensive grounding in the theoretical underpinnings and the practical functions of policing, courts, and prisons. Students learn how these systems affect the lives of individuals, their families, and their communities, discovering opportunities to implement more effective practices for reform. A graduate education in criminal justice can equip professionals for careers in federal law enforcement, cybersecurity, intelligence, victim advocacy, and fraud investigation.
A Multidisciplinary Understanding of Crime
Students and professionals who are interested in starting or advancing in roles that address illegal behavior can benefit from a multidisciplinary background. A criminology and criminal justice master’s degree program prepares students for a broad range of roles, but it can also allow them to gain a multifaceted perspective on the issues that are most relevant to a specific career path. Students develop skills in research design, data analysis, and qualitative inquiry, which lay the foundation for evidence-based policies, community engagement, and policing.
A master’s in criminal justice and criminology curriculum builds knowledge in topics such as:
- Psychological and social scientific explanations for the causes of criminal activity and the impact on victims
- Rooting out corruption and supporting greater accountability in law enforcement
- Understanding how race, ethnicity, and gender affect the treatment of individuals in the justice system and society more broadly
- Mapping incidents to uncover crime patterns and formulate community-based mitigation strategies
- Stopping online fraud, identity theft, data breaches, and other cybercrimes
- The causes of criminal violence on an individual, group, and societal level
- Best practices for performing research and conducting evaluations
- The social, economic, and psychological effects of incarceration
- Identifying and protecting victims of human trafficking
- International crime and policing in a globalized world
- Drug addiction and initiatives to assist recovery
Professionals who grapple with the enormity of crime, its causes, and its consequences need expertise that is backed by rigorous research and practical experience. Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice program engages with the full breadth of criminological inquiry and the criminal justice system, while providing specialized knowledge in fields ranging from cybersecurity to juvenile law. Bridging the gap between the disciplines of criminology and criminal justice can result in a more nuanced understanding of why illegal acts occur, what law enforcement and other agencies can do to promote positive societal change, and how professionals can contribute to a future that is safer and more equitable.
About the Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University
Available on campus, online, or in a mixed modality, the Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice (MSCJ) from Northeastern University examines all aspects of criminological inquiry and the criminal justice process. Students benefit from the extensive resources of a globally renowned research institution as they explore strategies to prevent crime, encourage societal equity and justice, and reduce harm in the justice system.
Our world-class faculty teach advanced skills in qualitative and quantitative research and analysis while providing foundational knowledge in criminological and criminal justice theories and individualized mentorship. The MSCJ curriculum, which can be completed in one year, offers students and professionals the knowledge and skills needed for leadership roles in policymaking, research, analyst work, research directorships, and law enforcement. This program features a range of options for customization, including a cybersecurity concentration, the ability to complete a graduate certificate in a related field, and experiential learning.
MS in Criminology and Criminal Justice
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