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Criminal Justice Associations: Turn Your Industry Contacts into Employment Contracts

BREAKING NEWS: Much of the U.S. population is still reeling from the recession that was supposed to have ended in 2009. The job market is bone dry and the country is struggling to keep from delving into a double-dip recession in 2013.

OK, maybe that’s not exactly breaking news.

We all know the realities:

  • Real gross domestic product – one of the clearest signs of the overall health of the economy – fell in the fourth quarter of 2012.
  • The U.S. unemployment rate has hovered around 8 percent since this time last year.
  • The long-term unemployed – those without a job for 27 weeks or more – remained unchanged at 4.7 million.

But before you start getting weepy about the state of the working world … wait. There are jobs out there.

Over the past 12 months,* reported 2,490 new job postings for students holding a Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. But a tighter economy means job-hunters have to find evermore innovative ways to distinguish themselves.

Networking through professional organizations is a great way to do just that, says Ron Harper, program coordinator for the School of Justice Studies at Rasmussen College.

Harper says participation in professional organizations allows students to immerse themselves in their field. He also says organizations like the American Criminal Justice Association help students hone their leadership skills, compete for scholarships and participate in academic writing competitions.

But the ACJA isn’t the only game in town.

There are criminal justice associations for almost every discipline in the field. But not all of them allow student membership. We’ve taken the liberty of featuring seven that do.

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

  • History: The AAFS was founded in 1948 and boasts a membership of 6,260. Its membership represents all 50 U.S. states and 66 countries. AAFS members actively practice in the field, teach and conduct research.
  • Mission: To advance science and its application to the legal system. The objectives of AAFS are to promoteprofessionalism, integrity, competency,education, foster research, improve practice and encourage collaboration in the forensic sciences.
  • What’s in it for students: The Young Forensic Scientists Forum is dedicated to the education, enrichment and development of emerging forensic scientists and future leaders of the field. The YFSF also includes information on education, employment and mentorships. A subscription to the Journal of Forensic Sciences is available to members only.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

  • History: The ACJS was formed in 1963 and boasts a membership of 2,800 educators, practitioners and students. Its members represent all 50 U.S. states and, according to its website, virtually every college or university with a criminal justice program.
  • Mission: “To provide a forum for sharing and discussing ideas related to research, policy, education and practice within the field of criminal justice.”
  • What’s in it for students: Members can choose to focus on any one of 11 subsections within the field including: juvenile justice, minorities and women, law and public policy and victimology. Membership also includes a subscription to the ACJS Today newsletter.

American Corrections Association

  • History: The ACA was founded in 1870 with former U.S. president Rutherford B. Hayes serving as its first president. It is the oldest association dedicated to practitioners in the corrections field. The ACA boasts a nationwide membership of more than 20,000.
  • Mission: “To provide a professional organization for all individuals and groups – both public and private – that share a common goal of improving the justice system.”
  • What’s in it for students: The ACA offers student internships in seven different departments within its Virginia-based headquarters and in prisons across the United States. Membership also includes a subscription to Corrections Today magazine.

American Society of Criminology

  • History: The ASC was established in California in 1941 as the National Association of College Police Training Officials. It adopted its current name in 1957. The ASC grew from seven original members to more than 3,600 spanning 50 countries.
  • Mission: “To encourage the exchange, in a multidisciplinary setting, of those engaged in research, teaching and practice so as to foster criminological scholarship, and to serve as a forum for the dissemination of criminological knowledge.”
  • What’s in it for students: The ASC is considered the world’s largest professional criminological society. Students comprise around 30 percent of overall membership and the ASC offers students various awards and fellowships. Membership also includes subscriptions to the journals Criminology and Criminology & Public Policy as well as the newsletter The Criminologist.

National Criminal Justice Honor Society

  • History: The NCJHS – referred to as Alpha Phi Sigma when it launched in 1942 – began on the campus of Washington State University under the direction of Dr. Vivian Anderson Leonard. What began with 14 chapters in 1976 has grown rapidly to 360 chapters across the U.S. and Canada.
  • Mission: “To recognize scholarly achievement and performance in the field of criminal justice.”
  • What’s in it for students: Membership in the NCJHS offers career development services as well as annual scholarships and awards. For students searching for leadership opportunities, the NCJHS offers grants to those hoping to organize new chapters. Membership also includes access to The Docket the seasonal newsletter of the NCJHS.

Southern Criminal Justice Association

  • History: The SCJA was established in 1972 and boasts a regional membership of around 305. Member states include those of the U.S. Southeast as well as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
  • Mission: “To serve criminal justice educators, researchers, practitioners and students committed to the ongoing development of criminal justice science and practice.”
  • What’s in it for students: The SCJA distributes awards to outstanding educators, graduate students and undergraduate students on an annual basis. Membership also includes a subscription to the American Journal of Criminal Justice and an electronic subscription to the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

National Criminal Justice Association

  • History: The NCJA was established in 1971 to be the voice of various social and cultural groups on issues of crime prevention and control. It is governed by a 16-person advisory council elected from four regions throughout the U.S.
  • Mission: “To promote the development of justice systems in states, tribal nations, and units of local government that enhance public safety; prevent and reduce the harmful effects of criminal and delinquent behavior on victims, individuals, and communities; adjudicate defendants and sanction offenders fairly and justly; and that are effective and efficient.”
  • What’s in it for students: NCJA membership offers students a bi-monthly newsletter containing information on federal and private grants for justice-related projects and initiatives. Students also receive the monthly newsletter Justice Bulletin and access to a database of internships based in Washington D.C.

The bottom line

We all know the realities. Everything mentioned at the top of this article is true. But that doesn't mean your perfect criminal justice job is gone for good. It just means you'll have to work hard at networking. Good grades, test scores and a clean background check will qualify you for plenty of jobs ... but to get your foot in the door, you'll need the help of those in the field. Criminal justice associations are the place to meet those people.

To learn more about job opportunities, download our Criminal Justice Career Outlook eBook.

*Burning Glass is a subscription-only database that provides statistics and insights about the current job market.

Jeff Roberts

Jeff is the Content Marketing Editor at Collegis Education. He oversees all of the blog and newsletter content for Rasmussen College. As a writer, he creates articles that educate, encourage and motivate current and future students.

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