What is Criminology?

If you’re interested in a career that serves the public, then the field of criminology may be right for you. Criminology is the study of crime. As a branch of sociology, this focus area looks at how crime affects individuals and society as a whole, and it can take a wide range of forms in terms of career application. Those who study crime might work within a police force or as part of a research firm, or they may teach courses on the subject. For criminologists, identifying the motives behind the crimes is essential to deterring future criminal activity.

Schools of Thought

There are three primary schools of thought within the field of criminology: classical, positivist and ecological. Each school of thought seeks to address the issue of how to understand and prevent criminal behavior. As the oldest school of thought, classical is more widely known, and it rests on four principles: that individuals can act on their own accord because of free will; that people prefer pleasure over pain, which leads them to analyze the consequences of their actions ahead of time; that appropriate punishment will deter criminal activity; and that the key to deterring crime is through swift and certain punishment.

Positivists believe that biological, environmental and psychological factors affect a person’s ability and desire to commit crimes. This school of thought was the first of the three to use the scientific method for studying human behavior, thus making criminology a respected discipline among the sciences. Ecological criminology, which is also referred to as the Chicago school of thought, asserts that psychological and environmental factors play key roles in criminal behavior. Ecologists believe that environment is a strong motivating factor when it comes to crime.

Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

Criminologists and people who study criminal justice have similar aims in mind, but criminology and criminal justice are different fields. In fact, criminal justice could be considered a subfield within the larger area of criminology. While criminology focuses on crime, criminal justice focuses on how crime gets punished. It’s the practical side of the criminology coin. People who study criminal justice typically end up in careers related to law enforcement or the justice system, such as detective work or judicial services. Criminologists are more focused on the “why” behind criminal activity, which lends itself to careers that are based in research.

Career Prospects

Those who study criminology and criminal justice have a vast array of career options available to them, according to About Careers. Police officers, federal investigators, border patrol agents and corrections officers all draw from backgrounds in the fundamentals of criminology. Criminologists might also specialize in different areas, such as forensic science, which is a branch of investigative science that uses scientific methods to solve crime and answer specific legal questions. Counselors, social workers, prison psychologists and other similar professionals also use criminology to understand how people think and to correct negative behavior.

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Criminologists would be well suited for any field that requires a strong grasp of psychological, sociological and scientific concepts. Some schools offer programs that are specifically designed on the study of crime while others offer a more indirect route to the profession. If you’re interested in a career in criminology, know that you can take this field in a number of directions based on your overall objectives and individual interests.