Criminal Justice VS. Criminology

Last Updated on May 11, 2022 by Fair Punishment Team

The differences between criminal Justice and Criminology can be subtle but it is important to know them.

When seeing these two terms on a page or website you might be overwhelmed or tempted to confuse them, but it’s important to know the difference as they deal with different aspects of criminal systems and study. 

If you don’t know the difference don’t worry! This article is here to help you understand clearly.

After clear definitions and explorations of each term, we’ve also added sections that outline the differences between them, as well as how they are often grouped together when studied at an undergraduate level. 

Criminal Justice 

Criminal Justice is a term that refers to procedures, laws, institutions of law and correction, and policies regarding all aspects of a crime.

Criminal justice will not only look at policies in the wake of a crime but also before, during, and after. Criminal Justice is a broad term that encompasses a series of different terminology all to do with the subject. 

Criminal Justice not only deals with the crime, the victim, the perpetrator, and the punishment but also the investigation, the systems of law enforcement including lawyers and courts, correctional facilities, and police. 

If you study criminal justice, you’re more likely to be studying the processes around crime and justice. You would learn about the entire process from the time the crime is committed and reported, through evidence gathering and forensic science.

You would also study police systems around interviewing witnesses and suspects, detainment and incarceration, through to court proceedings, sentencing, and eventually correctional practices. 

A student of criminal justice might also learn about the history of judicial systems, including how they formed and how they have evolved over time to fit into society today.

Typical job roles within the criminal justice system include:

  • Police Officer
  • Wardens
  • Detectives
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • State Trooper 
  • Correctional Officer


Criminology refers to the specific and scientific study of crime in terms of its nonlegal aspects. In short, this means studying the psychological, social, economic, and sociological factors which cause people to commit crimes. 

A criminologist is typically employed to look at the various causes and consequences of crime. They consider different aspects to explain why such crimes can happen, as well as the after-effects on society.

In their study, criminologists not only look at the individuals within a case (I.E. victim or criminal) but also how society influences them in their actions and or reactions. 

Criminology is a separate field from Criminal Justice, though many universities will offer courses that cover both aspects as they are so closely related.

For example, if you’re a criminologist you’d have to have broad knowledge of Criminal Justice systems as well as some knowledge of Criminal Law. And similarly, if you’re somebody working within the criminal justice system it is beneficial to have some knowledge of criminology. 

Criminology is a highly competitive field and there aren’t many criminologists in the world, however, there is a selection of career paths that can come from a degree in criminology including: 

  • Police Detective
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Crime Analyst
  • Private Investigator
  • Lecturer

The ‘ology’ part of criminology might be the best way to remember and separate it from other related fields. ‘Ology’ means ‘study of.’ A criminologist is somebody who studies wider aspects of crime and what that means within society.

Their job usually revolves around theorizing and advising those within the criminal justice system

Criminal Justice vs. Criminology

There is much overlap between the two terms. The main difference between them is the study of criminals (criminology) versus the systems and procedures around crime (Criminal Justice).

It’s important to note here that Criminal Justice refers to a much broader set of terms and systems than criminology. There are thousands of jobs within Criminal Justice, whilst criminology refers only to the broad study of criminals. 

There are aspects of criminology that those within jobs inside the Criminal Justice System might not ever need to consider.

For example, a State Trooper might not ever need to consider the socioeconomic pressures that may cause somebody to commit a crime, only to follow the laws and procedures around enforcing motor vehicle laws within their given state. 

Similarly, whilst a criminologist might need to know broadly about motor vehicle laws within a given state when looking at a specific crime involving them, they might not be an expert.

Criminology is a more academic way of investigating crime, though they often need broad knowledge of Criminal justice systems to properly analyze, theorize and advise. 

A Note On Studying Criminal Justice VS. Criminology

It’s important to note that if you’re considering or researching a degree in Criminal Justice VS. Criminology, the two fields are closely linked so there may be cross-over even if you’re studying a degree specifically in one or the other. Some degree programs combine the two fields, others separate them.

Criminal Justice is an interdisciplinary field, meaning it is made up of multiple disciplines including government and law, sociology, computers, and IT. That said, there could be minors that you could pick alongside your degree that would better complement it. 

As for Criminology, it’s a much more specialized field but can benefit from minors in biology, biomolecular science, chemistry, economics, or computer science. All of these fields can complement a criminology student’s education as understanding criminal cases can require broad knowledge in a huge variety of different subjects. 


Hopefully, this article has cleared up the main differences between Criminal Justice and Criminology, and you now know a little more about the two fields and how they interact and are separate.

To summarize – criminal justice deals with systems regarding crime from beginning to end, whilst criminology deals with the study of crime including the cause, significance, and consequences of such actions. 

If you’d like to know more, we recommend reading more in-depth about the two fields as they are rich, interesting subjects!