If you’re considering an online criminal justice degree program, you are likely to encounter most of the courses listed below regardless of what specific career or job path you are pursuing. No list could cover every course given at every criminal justice school in the U.S., but this glossary includes the course topics that appear in the vast majority of criminal justice, law and, to a degree, social science college degree programs (in alphabetical order).
Case Management: Generally covers managing the cases of juvenile offenders, with an emphasis on preventing additional incarcerations as a result of recidivism or new offenses. Includes concepts in managing cases with courts, schools and parents, integrating treatments into the sentencing of young offenders and communication techniques.
Community-Based Corrections: Study of varied types of corrections programs in the community beyond prison incarceration, including house arrest, and treatment, community services and electronic monitoring. What works in probation and parole, what are the costs and the challenges of in-community corrections programs.
Community-Oriented Policing: A study of increasingly popular theories of how police can supervise communities more effectively by working closely with community members to reduce crime and increase safety with a broad-based, cooperative approach.
Comparative Correctional Systems: Theories governing the supervision and treatment of prison populations in varied countries around the world. Human rights issues and intervention strategies to bring prisoners back into society after confinement, as well as legal standards in worldwide corrections.
Comparative Criminal Justice: The study of differences between the world’s varied legal systems. World crime and national legal traditions, as well as the cultural background behind law enforcement and courtroom procedures. Advantages and disadvantages of particular justice systems around the world, with perspectives on courts, prisons and juvenile justice.
Computer Forensics: Mainly the study of using specialized software to pull data out of all kinds of devices so that law enforcement officials can analyze it. Computer forensics experts get important or suspicious data out of digital storage media from laptops to iPods, GPS devices, memory sticks and even cell phones.
Corrections: Sometime called “administration of justice,” the course generally focuses on the basic practices in correctional institutions, prisoner’s civil rights and your liability and job responsibilities should you become a corrections officer or employee. Sometimes also covers issues in race relations, community outreach and cultural awareness.
Courts As Organizations: A look at how justice is dispensed across the U.S. and current court policies, for students who are involved in criminal justice but who are not planning to become lawyers.
Crime Prevention: The study of how to prevent crimes from occurring, both from a community and individual perspective. Important aspects include environment design, community and mass media efforts, deterrence, school programs and rehabilitation of criminals.
Crime Scene Photography: Basic techniques in the use of photography in law enforcement. Beyond simply photographing crime scenes, students learn about videography, digital photography, image enhancement and about what photographic evidence judges generally admit in court.
Criminal Evidence and Investigation: Introduction to the various steps of collecting both physical and circumstantial evidence in a criminal case. Course will generally cover both the initial process of gathering evidence for an investigation as well as how it is presented in court.
Criminal Justice Ethics: Ethics and morality in the criminal justice sphere. Ranges from general concepts like the mission of the criminal justice system and the uses and limitations of authority to specifics like the problems that arise when officials misuse their authority. Classes also often cover organizational leadership and training issues.
Criminal Procedure: The important issues of constitutional protections like Miranda rights that citizens have when they are being arrested. Criminal procedure covers the full arc from arrest to sentencing for an offender, and often looks into victim’s rights rules.
Criminal Procedure and the U.S. Supreme Court: Variation on basic criminal procedure study that focuses entirely on the constitutional requirements for dealing with criminal suspects. Students generally read key cases and are asked to analyze and understand commentary pieces about how the constitution applies to police work. A course that many law students also take.
Criminological Theory: The study of varied explanations for criminal behavior. Generally involves reading a wide range of author’s comments on crime and social deviance. Theories on what causes criminal activity in cultures around the world, with a focus on applying theories, both old and new, to the modern practice of criminal justice.
Criminology: One of the most basic courses, which appears in almost every criminal justice or law degree curriculum. Covers the causes of crime from social and psychological perspectives, and various types of criminal acts including violence, property crime and public disorder.
Crisis Intervention: Provides students with practical knowledge to engage in crisis intervention. Study approaches, theory and the history of crisis situations. Additionally, learn the role of law enforcement as well as common psychological issues encountered in crisis intervention.
Critical Incidents and Cross-Agency Coordination: How to deal with large incidents that pose widespread risks to communities though cross-agency response. Involves learning who to create plans for how agencies that normally operate independently from each other can develop strategies and procedures for a coordinated response to critical incidents, including both man-made and natural disruptions.
Critical Issues in Juvenile Justice: In depth study of the juvenile justice system. Includes historical understanding of the juvenile court as well as present day policing and court interventions for children who are victims or criminal. Covers case law to explain the workings of the juvenile justice system.
Data Analysis for the Criminal Justice Professional: Focuses on how computer analysis of data can both help solve crimes and help make police departments more efficient by using GIS (geographical information systems) and GPS (global positioning systems) for surveillance, making it possible to do effective policing with few actual officers on the street. This is a key issue for many police departments who are seeing their budgets cut, but who are nonetheless being asked to provide the same level of service.
Deviant Behavior: The study of all forms of deviance that can negatively affect society, including mental health issues and delinquency. Also looks at how society as a whole reacts to deviant behavior.
Disaster Response: Study of how law enforcement agencies can plan to handle large-scale disasters, often working in consort with other police and non-police agencies. Many schools now offer classes specifically focused on response to disasters involving weapons of mass-destruction (WMDs). This can include learning about how to set up command centers and management systems on a regional or even national basis to deal with the aftermath of a terrorist attack involving including chemical and biological threats.
Drugs and Alcohol in the Criminal Justice System: Explores drug use in relation to the criminal justice system. Study consequences of drug use on individual health, history of use in the United States, theories of use and abuse and treatment. Also examine the business of drugs and the justice system’s reaction related to public policy and law enforcement.
Drugs, Gangs, and Organized Crime: Though organized crime is sometimes taught in a separate course, it is often covered at the same time as gang issues because it frequency involves the same criminal enterprises. In addition to studying the growing problem of drug trafficking by both groups, many schools will often teach, either as part of this course or separately, about international gang issues and/or gang awareness for public officials.
Ethics and Diversity in Policing: Addresses misconduct by public officials, workplace discrimination, and poor professional practices as they are confronted by the criminal justice system. Also examines strategy for improving professional and individual practices.
Evidentiary Issues in Criminal Cases: Analyzes State and Federal requirements for admitting evidence at trial. Students learn the foundation of chain of custody, victims’ rights, witness credibility, admission of exhibits, hearsay, expert testimony, and authentication of business and writing records. Professionals required to regularly testify in court may benefit from this course.
Family and Domestic Violence: Examines the approach the research, social service, and criminal justice communities employ to tackle the issue of family and domestic violence.
Fiscal Issues in Criminal Justice: A wide array of financial issues dealt with by criminal justice professionals. Learn the preparation and management of grants and grant applications along with budget management.
Forensic Biology and Impression Evidence: Modern and historical techniques for identifying, examining and comparing types of biological evidence. Also covers investigative techniques related to voice identification, computer forensics and document examination.
Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence Analysis: The application of forensic science to criminal investigations. Explore the forensic services provided to law enforcement, the role of a forensic scientist and the history and development of the crime laboratory. Also included is an overview of how scientist use instruments to compare and identify physical and chemical properties of suspected drug samples as well as trace evidence.
Forensic Fingerprint Analysis: Experience hands-on fingerprint processing methods while exploring all aspects of fingerprinting and its historical significance. Learn the functions of layers of human skin and the approach to processing latent finger prints. The course ends with a discussion of fingerprint examiners and their role as an expert witness on trial.
Forensic Psychology: This is a broad subject that may be taught at the undergraduate, master’s or doctoral level, or even taken as a full degree major. The course for criminal justice students generally covers understanding the mental state of criminals and defendants in court cases, and how to work with forensic psychologists, who are often brought in to testify in court.
Homeland Security: Develops an understanding of the Department of Homeland Security and how it approaches international and domestic terrorism. Examine how the agency prepares for security threats and how it assists state, local, and federal organizations. Learn to apply this knowledge using homeland security practices and principles.
Human Resource Development: Discusses new practices in human resource development and leadership. Learn how to address issues like business process reengineering, new management, team building strategy, integrated HR information systems, the role of consultants as well as the future of HR professionals in a changing technological and global environment.
Information Security and Privacy: Provides the basics of a skill set in data security administration, including data classification, risk management, cryptology and more. While this type of course is generally for students with a strong background in computers, some information security courses focus more in legal issues around privacy or comparisons of privacy laws in the U.S. versus other countries.
Investigating Cybercrime: There are a variety of legal challenges for dealing with cybercrime and technology based fraud. Using real world examples, examine online intelligence gathering, tracking methodologies and the types of evidence collected in cybercrime investigation. Discuss cases and learn proper response methods for dealing with threats presented by high tech terrorists, hackers, and online pedophiles.
Juvenile Delinquency: Discover the current services and programs available to juvenile offenders, the development of the juvenile justice system and expand your knowledge of delinquency hearings and criminal trials.
Juvenile Justice: The study of why juvenile delinquency occurs, how various agencies work to control it, and how the courts and correctional facilities attempt to administer juvenile justice.
Legal Foundations of Criminal Evidence: Trial process, definitions of proof and evidence are covered. Thorough understanding of constitutional concepts such as search and seizure, the Exclusionary Rule and discovery as well as learning about different types of evidence also provided.
Legal Issues in Criminal: Case law and recent legislation are explored with regard to the professional practice and administration of criminal justice. Topics include civil and criminal liability, law enforcement, civil rights, criminal procedure, substance abuse, employment law, judicial review of administrative decisions and corrections.
Management and Supervision in Criminal Justice Systems: Leadership and management practices for supervisors in police and other criminal justice organizations. Improving organizational behavior, managing conflicts and doing evaluations of employee performance.
Managing Criminal Justice Organizations: Focuses on historical perspectives and future trends in criminal justice organizations. Concepts and theory in the organizational behavior field are discussed.
Monitoring Activity in Cyberspace: The study of strategies and techniques for correctly documenting investigations of crimes perpetrated online.
Organized Crime: The historical origins of organized crime and its implications to future trends are explored. Domestic organized crime related to ethnic and racial groups is emphasized along with law enforcement efforts to combat the issue.
Probation and Parole: Probation is the most prevalent response to criminal offenders. With the current state of crowded prisons, probation and parole will be expanding. Insight into the work of probation and parole officers as well as the history, policy, administration, procedures and areas of controversy are covered.
Psychology for Law Enforcement: Practical knowledge and information regarding psychology in law enforcement. Crisis and hostage negotiations covered as well as the psychological services provided to police officers themselves. Exploration of benefits psychological services provided to officers and their families included.
Research Methods: Generally a course on how to apply findings from social science research to either the practice of law or law enforcement. Also includes interpretation of social research.
Restorative Justice: An approach that has gained in popularity, particularly among schools that teach criminal justice with an ethical or even religious emphasis. Looks at the needs of all stakeholders in the aftermath of a crime, and methods to address criminals by restoring their relationships and sense of responsibility.
The Criminal Mind: Sometimes called “The Psychology of the Criminal Mind,” this is a course that covers basic principles of the origins of criminal behavior. A psychological view of the nature and causes of violent crimes, including social and family factors, and sometimes even media and genetic influences.
Theoretical Applications of Justice Management: Applications of social and psychological principles to the everyday workings of criminal justice agencies examined. Topics include performance appraisal, training and development, psychological testing as it relates to employment selection, job satisfaction, leadership and motivation, organizational structure, occupational health and stress. Future implications also explored.
Transnational Crime: The perspective of the international criminal justice community is discussed with relation to the history and current status of various transnational crimes. Particular attention is given to human trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, narcotics trafficking and the prevention and containment of these issues.
Victimology: Sometimes offered as either a full major or a certificate program, it covers the human issues of victimization and how the criminal justice system responds, or fails to respond, to their needs.
White Collar Crime: Methodology used for investigating and prosecuting economic crime. Examination of social, political, and economic impact on society included.