Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice

Industry Outlook

The criminal justice industry is expected to have some job growth in the next few years, with growth rates varying depending upon the field. For instance, law enforcement jobs overall are expected to have average to slow employment growth, whereas counseling, psychology, and forensic science jobs will experience strong job growth in the coming years, according to the Department of Labor.

Slower than average employment growth is predicted for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists through 2028. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported a downward trend in the size of the correctional population and the correctional supervision rate from 2007 through 2016, and that decline is expected to continue. Heavy workloads and the often challenging clientele make corrections work extremely stressful. Most of the job growth will be due to people who leave the position for other opportunities or retire from the field. Job growth is also dependent on state and local government funding for corrections; when corrections budgets are cut, employment often declines. The DOL notes, however, that community corrections is usually preferred over incarceration because of the cost savings. As long as people commit crimes, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists will be needed.

The outlook is bright for the forensic sciences. The forensic science technician field will have much faster than average employment growth of 14 percent through 2028. This is a small field, however, so only about 2,400 new jobs will be added by then and competition for jobs will still be keen. Technological and scientific advances have made forensic information more reliable and useful as evidence in trials. Popular media has also increased the interest in forensic science and crime scene investigation. Law enforcement agencies and courts will need forensic science technicians, including criminalists, to contribute their findings to crime investigations and court cases. Opportunities will vary depending on federal, state, and local budgets. Typically larger police departments have the budgets to employ forensic science technicians on a full-time basis.

Psychologists also will have exceptionally good job growth in the coming years. The Department of Labor predicts 15 percent employment growth for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists. Mental health centers, social service agencies, schools, and hospitals will need psychologists to help people with mental health, behavioral, and learning problems. Increased awareness of the connection between mental health and learning disabilities and behavioral problems will lead to increased demand for psychologists’ assessments and counseling services. Job growth will be strong in this field but there will also be strong competition for jobs. Employment opportunities in clinical, counseling, or school psychology will be best for those with a doctoral or education specialist degree and post-doctoral work experience.

U.S. News and World Report ranked substance abuse counselors fourth in its Best Social Services Jobs listing in 2019. Fast employment growth is expected for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors in the coming years, with the Department of Labor projecting 68,500 new jobs added to the field by 2028. Mental health and substance abuse social workers will also have faster than average employment growth of 12 percent in the next few years. The federal government now mandates health insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health, which means more people will be able to afford counseling and social workers’ services. Demand will also increase for addiction counselors and social workers because more states are assigning offenders to rehabilitation programs, such as addiction treatment services, rather than sentencing them to jail. The criminal justice system has recognized that substance abuse addicts who receive counseling and treatment for their addiction are less likely to repeat the crime. Many states are also choosing the treatment option for offenders due to budget cuts and overcrowded prisons. Job prospects will be best for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors with a bachelor’s or master’s degree. There will also be ongoing job opportunities for mental health and substance abuse counselors and social workers because of the high turnover in these fields. The work is emotionally demanding and stressful, and many people leave their jobs after several years.

Much faster than average employment growth is expected for social and human service assistants through 2028. The Department of Labor predicts this field will grow by 13 percent in the next few years due to the increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction. Also, as more drug offenders are sentenced to addiction treatment centers rather than jail, more social and human service assistants will be needed to provide social services. Those with a degree in social or human services will have the best prospects of finding work.

The criminal justice industry faced a number of ethical and economic concerns during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. Many related to the spread of COVID-19 in the close quarters of prisons, and the dilemma of whether prisoners should be released and, if so, in what numbers. Although these decisions were made most often at the state or municipal level, many prisons did release some inmates in hopes of slowing the spread of the disease. Procedures and processes previously done in-person moved to remote platforms, with those accused of crimes sometimes appearing before a judge via video rather than in the courtroom. During the spring and summer of 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, many jurisdictions confronted rioting and violent protests, challenges to police authority, and difficulty in safely enforcing laws while observing safe practices for COVID-19.

Moving forward, government policy toward for-profit prisons and related facilities will shift from private sector outsourcing in the coming years. This shift will be due to the public's growing scrutiny of for-profit incarceration facilities. The correctional facilities industry overall is expected to have a decrease in revenue through 2025, according to research group IBISWorld. Where growth does exist, it will be mainly in the form of immigrant detainee and reentry facilities. It's also noted that "state and local governments have experienced heightened pressure on the use of private prisons, a trend that is expected to be amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic."

As of late 2020, the criminal lawyers and attorneys industry in the U.S. is a $14 billion business, employing about 61,130, and steady growth is expected through 2025. This growth may be tempered by a declining crime rate that has been occurring the the U.S. There will still be crime, however, and increasing legal costs will ensure that criminal lawyers, attorneys, and other related professionals will continue to be needed. Urban populations are also expected to grow and these areas often have higher crime rates than less populated areas.