Corrections Degrees: Master, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or doctoral degree in corrections? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses in corrections programs.
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Studying Corrections: Degrees at a Glance

Graduate degrees in corrections are rare, and criminal justice programs at the master's and Ph.D. level are more available in colleges and universities. While a career in corrections generally only requires an associate's or bachelor's degree, earning a graduate degree can open up additional career opportunities.

Graduate level programs focus on corrections theory, leadership, analysis and behavior. With a master's degree, you could work as a corrections specialist and help develop rehabilitation plans for inmates. Duties in this position might involve counseling, writing case reports, overseeing rehabilitation progress and helping with job skills. Upon a prisoner's release, a corrections specialist might help him or her find housing and employment.

With a Ph.D., you will have the opportunity to teach or conduct research in the criminal justice or corrections field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for corrections specialists was expected to increase 18% from 2010-2020, due to growth in probation services.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this degree for? Graduates with a bachelor's degree in corrections who want to pursue advancement opportunities Those who want to teach in universities and perform research in corrections or criminal justice
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Corrections specialist ($52,000)*
- Federal corrections officer ($53,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($66,000)*
- Researcher (unavailable)
Time to Completion 2 years full time 5-8 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 8-12 courses
- Capstone project
- Comprehensive exam
- About 12-28 courses
- Comprehensive exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in corrections or criminal justice Corrections or criminal justice bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Corrections

A master's degree in corrections provides students with the theoretical knowledge and leadership skills to work in the field and help change the life of inmates. Focus of the program is placed on corrections policies, management of inmate needs and budget development. Students might also be able to learn about the juvenile justice system and the ethics involved when dealing with criminals. A master's level program might also require students to participate in seminars to discuss the latest developments and issues in corrections. Because it's not required to work in the field, graduates with this degree might still compete for jobs with candidates who hold only bachelor's degrees.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Make a difference in inmates' lives
  • Help make a community safer
  • Improved employment opportunities with advanced degree

Cons

  • Work in hostile environment
  • High stress and frustration in dealing with inmates
  • Schedule may be demanding

Courses and Requirements

A master's degree program requires students to complete both core and elective courses in corrections. Core corrections courses might involve research methods, corrections analysis, inmate evaluation, leadership skills and law and administration. Students have the option of taking elective courses that cover sentencing and punishment, different client populations, law and ethics, trends in corrections, mental health issues and substance abuse. In addition to courses, students will be required to complete a capstone project that will involve research on a corrections-related topic.

Online Course Options

Online master's degree programs in corrections are available for current professionals who are working in the field and are unable to visit campus on a regular basis. Professors who teach the online courses also oversee the on-campus courses and communication takes place through e-mail and chat rooms. Students will view lectures and complete assignments through a content management system, like Blackboard. To complete online courses, students will need a computer with high-speed Internet access and an updated Web browser.

How to Stand Out in this Field

Earning a master's degree in corrections will offer you an advantage when applying for corrections specialist positions. Attitude and the ability to handle high-stress situations are important parts of the job. Because you will be dealing with criminals, you must be prepared to work in hostile environments and communicate effectively with a wide range of individuals. In order to keep paper work and files organized, you must be detail-oriented and able to oversee multiple cases at the same time. Any experience you can gain while pursuing this degree will also help you stand out in the field.

Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

A Ph.D. in Criminal Justice focuses on the theory behind crime and corrections. Through research and classes, students will be able to learn the ways that contemporary society and laws affect criminal behavior. Topics in the program cover the political, social and economic factors that determine correctional policies and procedures. The program might also focus on the management issues affecting juvenile and adult correctional facilities. Graduates of the program will be prepared to teach in university settings or perform research; however, earning a Ph.D. often isn't required to work in the corrections or criminal justice field.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Teach and perform research in academic settings
  • Program can be tailored to fit student's interest
  • Research ways to improve correction facilities

Cons

  • Acceptance rates for Ph.D. programs are low
  • Will research inmates rather than have a direct effect on their lives
  • Earning a doctorate will not result in a significant salary increase (In 2011, mean annual salary for corrections specialist was $57,000 vs. that for postsecondary teacher, which was $65,000.)**

Sources: *Michigan State University, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Course and Requirements

Students in a Ph.D. program will take courses that cater toward their specific interests in the criminal justice and corrections field. While required courses might include criminal justice procedures and policies, criminal justice data and criminal justice theory, students will be able to take electives in forensic science, security management and police organizations. The program may also require students to complete a seminar, practicum and dissertation. The dissertation will involve creating an original piece of research that will need to be defended in front of faculty members.

Online Course Options

Prospective students interested in pursuing an online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice will find limited opportunities; however, a few programs do exist. Before enrolling, it's important to make sure that a prospective university or college offering this program is accredited. Rather than take courses on campus, online learners will log on to a university-sponsored website where they will view lectures, submit assignments and communicate with professors. Technical requirements will include a computer with Internet access, an updated browser, a microphone and speakers.

How to Stand Out in this Field

Whether you are still enrolled in a Ph.D. program or working for an academic institution, getting your research published can help you stand out from your contemporaries. Also, while pursuing your degree, you might want to pursue any available opportunities to teach undergraduate students and develop experience working in an academic setting. When performing research, you should be detail-oriented and have strong writing and language skills.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
      • MSM in Emergency Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Lewis University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Emergency Management and Public Health
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Benedictine University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    10. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Law Enforcement & Corrections

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • MS in Leadership: Disaster Preparedness & Executive Fire Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Public Administration - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice: Advanced Counterterrorism & Homeland Security concentration
  • MSM in Emergency Management

What is your highest level of education?

Lewis University

  • MS in Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Master of Science in Homeland Security
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

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