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Criminal Justice and Criminology: What’s the difference?

Criminal justice and Criminology are two terms that are most certainly intertwined and related to one another. In many cases, the terms have been used interchangeably. However, a closer look reveals that they have their own distinct identities.

Criminal Justice typically refers to the universal and policy of the field, which includes policing, corrections, and other forms of systematic law enforcement. Criminology, on the other hand, is more related to the concept of a social science, one that examines the motivation behind the behavior of criminals, along with society’s response to crime.

Criminology finds its roots in the mid-18th century, when social philosophers began to devote time to critically analyzing crime and the concepts of law. Since then, there have been several schools of thought that have developed in the realm of Criminology:

Classical School

This school of thought operates under the concept that citizens possess a free will that allows them to choose how to act, and those who deviate from the notion of what is considered to be ‘right’ stems from a hedonist mentality that values pleasure higher than the social consequences for illegal action.

Positivist School

Suggesting that criminal behavior is caused by both internal and external factors outside of the individual’s control, this school of thought purports that issues such as age, gender, poverty, education, and alcohol consumption are highly influential to the occurrence of crime.

Chicago School

Emerging in the early 20th century, the Chicago school of thought takes a social ecology approach to studying cities, and suggests that poverty-stricken, urban neighborhoods are more likely to experience deterioration to the social structure and important institutions such as family and schools, which in turn results in social disorganization and leads to a drastic increase in criminal behavior.

While Criminology employs a scientific method to explain concepts such as law-making, law-breaking, and society’s reaction these processes, criminal justice is more about applying these principles within society. As a result, education in criminology generally tends to lead to positions in both research and education. However, it would be remiss to totally separate these two branches as being completely unrelated. It is essential for professionals working within the criminal justice system to have an understanding of criminology, while those who specialize in criminology are greatly aided in their studies by an awareness of the workings of criminal justice in our society.

From lawyers and law enforcement to academic researchers and parole and probation officers, there are a variety of careers that rely on having a solid foundation in both criminal justice and criminology.