Creighton’s New Criminal Justice Major Addresses an Expanding Field
Creighton’s New Criminal Justice Major Addresses an Expanding Field

Dawn Irlbeck, PhD, left, associate professor of criminal justice in the Department of Cultural and Social Studies, and Rebecca Murray, PhD, Associate Dean of College of Arts and Sciences, are spearheading creation of Creighton’s new criminal justice major.

Those who view a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice as the key to becoming a police officer, a corrections officer or perhaps a stepping stone to law school, should think more broadly, according to Rebecca Murray, PhD.

Certainly, it remains all those things, but the field of criminal justice today is vastly more comprehensive, she says, transformed by the advent of data analysis into a thoroughly modern and scientific discipline that embraces criminology, victimology, victim advocacy, youth intervention, psychology and political science.

Murray, associate dean in Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences and holder of a PhD in criminal justice, says Creighton’s new criminal justice major being launched this year responds to “a huge market out there” for such graduates.

Students may declare a criminal justice major as early as next fall, Murray says, although they can immediately take relevant — and transferable — courses under sociology.

“Criminal justice as a discipline has morphed into more than law enforcement training,” she says. “It’s much more data driven, it’s much more analytical, and more and more agencies are looking for people who have a much broader background than just investigative training.”

Given the breadth of criminal justice studies, she says, Creighton students will have significant leeway to design their own curriculum.

“When we structured this major, we were really intentional about saying, ‘Here are the courses that every student must take,’ while at the same time allowing students to take the courses that will assist them the most in pursuing whatever aspect of the criminal justice system interests them,” Murray says.

And those areas are many.

“There’s really a huge market out there for individuals with criminal justice degrees,” Murray says. “Even things like the educational system, which more and more wants to partner with individuals who have the training to intervene with kids at higher risk of engaging in criminal activity. The school-to-prison pipeline, unfortunately, is very real.”

Creighton’s criminal justice major, by offering a broad curriculum, gives graduates a significant advantage in the job market, Murray says.

“Students who go through this program have the option of taking courses in social work, psychology, political science, and, of course sociology,” Murray says.

“They have the option of taking courses that are more legally structured, if they want to engage in the criminal justice system from a judicial perspective, others that are more geared toward  service or advocacy for those in the system. We have a huge array of options.”

Nevertheless, says Murray, who is writing a book titled Data-Driven Policing, the increasingly dominant field of data analysis tops the list for employers hiring criminal justice graduates.

“Twenty years ago, law enforcement just didn’t have the data capabilities that we do now,” she says. “We used to stick pins in maps, but now we have information flowing from bodycams, vehicle cameras, GPS, even the U.S. Census and the Department of Health and Human Services, that allows us to identify likely hotspots for crime — critical information that allows police chiefs to make strategic decisions.”

And, Murray says, criminal justice is among the fastest growing graduate programs in the nation.

“There was article in The Chronicle of Higher Education some time ago that indicated there are more academic positions available than there are criminal justice PhDs,” she says. “That is not the case for any other major than I can think of. Part of that is because so many schools are starting or revamping criminal justice programs.”

Murray says more than 100 students have expressed interest in Creighton’s criminal justice major. For more information on the program, contact the Department of Cultural and Social Studies.