Outlook and careers for women in criminal justice

women in criminal justiceThrough decades of research highlighting the advantages of diversity in the criminal justice system and other workplaces, significant strides have been made to recruit more women. While there is still a long way to go for progress in many areas, women have more support and opportunities to enter or advance in criminal justice careers than they did in the past.

In a recent interview with AP News, Detective Lisa Layden of York County, Pennsylvania discusses the importance of recruiting female officers in order to better represent the population she serves.

“More women will respect a woman’s perspective and many of the crimes we investigate involve domestic violence, sexual assault, [and] child abuse,” Layden told the AP.

Layden, who was the first female police officer in her department, shared a story about how she responded to a call where a woman had barricaded herself in her house to avoid involuntary commitment to a mental health institution. The male officers she worked with anticipated having to use force based on their past experiences with similar incidents. However, Layden defused the situation and convinced the person to enter an ambulance willingly.

While there are some systemic barriers to reaching gender equality in criminal justice, such as legacy recruiting policies, there are also numerous advantages for organizations that address these challenges and make criminal justice careers more accessible and attractive to women.

In addition to defusing potentially violent situations, for example, having more women involved in law enforcement can positively impact the reporting rate of violence against women in a community. As researchers become more aware of the positive impacts that changes in recruitment and retention related to women in criminal justice can have, it is likely that the opportunities available will also grow.

Advantages of recruiting women in criminal justice

A 2014 MIT study by Amalia Miller and Carmit Segal looked specifically at how the presence of women in law enforcement affected crime reporting and domestic violence escalation. Researchers found that not only did the rate of domestic violence resulting in homicide decrease in areas with a higher concentration of female police officers, but that rates of repeated domestic abuse dropped.

The study looked at the effect of integrating women in to the police force from the late 1970s until the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Miller and Segal found that even a small increase in female police presence resulted in a pronounced effect on the report rate of violence against women.

The positive impact of hiring and promoting female employees has been observed far beyond law enforcement, as another paper of Miller’s showed. The 2015 paper Women Helping Women? Evidence from Private Sector Data on Workplace Hierarchies observed over 4,000 private sector companies in Norway over an 11-year period. The results suggested that the presence of women in leadership positions can have “spillover” positive effects for women throughout an organization.

Together, these studies highlight how addressing the challenges in achieving more diversity in criminal justice could provide benefits for entire organizations and communities.

What positions are available to women in criminal justice?

While there are areas where women are under-represented, women in criminal justice have been able to find support, both from family and from professional mentorship. Some researchers have put pressure on the academic community to more actively influence policies that could make the criminal justice field more attractive to women.

The list below includes a number of common criminal justice careers in law enforcement as well as in advocacy and education. As more initiatives build awareness of the benefits of encouraging diversity in criminal justice, these opportunities are likely to grow. In particular, organizations with more women in leadership positions can have cascading positive effects, both for the work environment and the communities they serve.

Police Chief

The police chief oversees an entire police department, reporting directly to either a mayor or governor. Also known as the chief of police, this position is highly visible, requiring anyone who holds the office to be present in circumstances like luncheons and volunteer events. They are called on to address emergency situations as they occur, well outside of the standard 9-to-5 office hours, no matter when they occur. In large departments, the chief may oversee the hiring and management of hundreds of law enforcement officers.

The average yearly salary of a police chief is just over $73K per year, and while it is not a position that has historically been held by women, progress is being made. In 2018 when Mayor Jenny Durkan was confirmed as Seattle’s police chief, she was one of only about a dozen women holding the position out of 100 of the largest cities in the US. Durkan, however, finds the growth encouraging, and also made history as Seattle’s first black police chief when she took the job.

Victim Advocacy

The role of a victim advocates requires a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system. Victim advocates must be empathetic, understanding and have the ability to work directly with victims and their families. Victim advocate salaries average $38K annually and are an important piece of helping those who have experienced traumatic crimes and preventing future crimes.


Prison wardens manage correctional facilities, budgets and prison staff in order to ensure the safety of those who work under them, as well as the prisoners who are held in their facilities. With a median yearly salary of $87K, Wardens hold one of the higher salaried positions within the criminal justice field.


A graduate degree is typically required in order to teach at the undergraduate level or higher, and criminal justice education is no exception to that rule. By earning a graduate degree, professionals have the opportunity to pass on real-world experience to the coming generation of criminal justice professors. In 2018, criminal justice and law enforcement educators made an average salary of $61K.

What do women need to get a degree in criminal justice?

Women can enter criminal justice from a variety of undergraduate level backgrounds, and master’s programs available to women in criminal justice often only require applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university.

Some criminal justice programs also consider factors like professional experience, volunteer work and other aspects of an applicant’s background. Online programs can be a good option for working professionals because of their accessibility and flexibility. For example, Lynn’s online M.S. in Criminal Justice program allows students to enroll full- or part-time, ensuring those with more restrictive time constraints and other responsibilities can advance their education without taking attention away from their other responsibilities.

What will you get from a degree in criminal justice?

Criminal justice classes address issues such as administrative and regulatory law, conflict resolution and global criminal justice perspectives in order to give graduates a broad view of the field. A comprehensive criminal justice curriculum can also help students develop a better understanding of the modern challenges they may face.

In recent years, for example, the structure and professional environment created within law enforcement agencies has come under close scrutiny. As investigations into the philosophy and administration of criminal justice organizations continue to be revisited, a deep understanding of these issues could become even more important.

The expertise gained through a criminal justice master’s program can help professionals develop their understanding of modern issues as well as to learn strategies for ethics-based decision-making, criminal justice research and advocacy. By providing opportunities to gain expertise in multiple areas of the criminal justice system, MSCJ programs allow students to better understand how their careers may be impacted by external forces such as community culture and regulatory changes.

The online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ) at Lynn University

Because many graduate-level criminal justice degree seekers are currently working full-time and have non-traditional schedules, Lynn University’s MSCJ program can be completed entirely online. Students can finish in as little as one year, enabling busy professionals to earn their master’s degree without putting their careers on hold.

The online criminal justice master’s program at Lynn University comprehensively explores a range of subjects relevant to today’s criminal justice professionals, including the relationship between criminal justice organizations and their communities, conflict resolution and applied research. By gaining knowledge of current issues in the field and expertise in applying research methods, graduates will be better prepared to excel in their careers, influence their organizations and make more effective decisions.

Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the “Most Innovative Colleges” in the nation, Lynn University is not only dedicated to making advanced education affordable and accessible but to ensuring that our programs are high quality and focused on providing the most value to our students.

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