Our criminal justice system relies on the efforts of numerous individuals to keep the wheels of justice turning. Peace officers have the power to enforce laws, cite offenders, and temporarily take suspects into custody. These suspects may then go before a judge, with or without a jury, to determine their guilt or innocence and any appropriate penalty. Upon conviction, correctional officers are then tasked with managing imprisonment, parole, and probation.

But what happens when there aren’t enough officers or judges to meet the demands of our society?

Understaffing in the U.S criminal justice system is on the rise, according to multiple sources. An alarming report issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) showed that 78% of law enforcement agencies had trouble finding qualified candidates and 65% did not have enough applicants to meet their needs. The consequences of the shortage are widespread and profound, and it appears to be on track to worsen soon.

The Impact of Officer Shortages

From Florida to Minnesota to Arizona, law enforcement academies are facing recruitment shortages, and agencies are seeing fewer applicants and greater attrition among their personnel. “Less officers translate into a less effective response time,” police science professor Maria Haberfeld told a Philadelphia news outlet. With fewer officers to respond to calls, valuable time can be lost during or following a crime.

Underserved areas, where existing law enforcement personnel may become overworked and demoralized, are even more vulnerable to crime. “If you are in your 13th, 14th, 15th hour of overtime, your effectiveness obviously goes down,” Haberfeld explained. These conditions are leading an increasing number of frustrated officers to retire or resign.

The staffing outlook isn’t looking any more encouraging in corrections, where, according to some reports, corrections officers are in short supply due to COVID-19 concerns, economic uncertainty, and other job opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the loss of nearly 30,000 corrections officers—a 7% decline in employment—from 2020-2030, leaving prisons severely understaffed.

The Impact of Judge Shortages

To quantify recent judge shortages, take as an example federal courts, which had more than 715,000 cases on their docket in the summer of 2021. That’s an increase of nearly 20% over the number of cases just one year prior and a 36% increase over the number of cases from five years earlier. Yet the same number of judges presided over all these cases. No new federal judges are likely to be seated before 2025, and state and local courts coast to coast are similarly facing a shortage of judges.

Such shortages lead to a backlog of court cases, which can force complainants and defendants to wait longer for justice to be served. Judges may also be inclined to dismiss more cases to lighten their caseload or speed up individual cases, potentially denying the involved parties a full and fair hearing.

What’s to be done about these problematic staffing shortfalls? Unfortunately, there’s no fast or easy fix. Systemic issues such as police accountability, poor working conditions, and budgetary concerns will need to be addressed to attract skilled candidates. While our society progresses toward a more effective and equitable criminal justice system, the field needs additional qualified personnel, making the employment opportunities for those with the right skills and credentials plentiful.

Become Part of the Solution

You can help fill the need for more knowledgeable, credentialed personnel in our criminal justice system. Whether you aspire to enter a criminal justice career upon graduation, want a stepping-stone to law school, or hope to advance in your current career in the field, UT Permian Basin has online degrees that can help you achieve your goals. Choose the program that aligns with your education and career level:

Online Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies

Explore criminal justice from multiple perspectives and gain a broad foundation in general education topics to round out your education. If you want to go into public service, this is where you start.

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration

If you have a bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice-related major and are active in a criminal justice career or recently completed your undergraduate studies and plan to enter the field, this online master’s degree program can provide the expertise and credentials you need. You’ll build advanced-level abilities that will prepare you for leadership positions with greater compensation potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, master’s degree holders earn about 18% more than bachelor’s degree holders. And you can finish this program in as little as one year!

Continuing your education in one of our online criminal justice programs is one of the most convenient and effective ways to start affecting positive change from within the criminal justice system. Research has consistently shown that officers with increased education levels are associated with fewer injuries, more positive supervisor evaluations, and decreased departmental use of force complaints. With your UTPB credentials, you can shape a stronger, more ethical criminal justice system.

Learn Directly From Criminal Justice Experts

Our online criminal justice degree programs feature the same robust curriculum used in their campus-based equivalents. Courses are taught by the same acclaimed faculty that teach on campus at UTPB— criminal justice experts with significant experience in both the field and the classroom. Who better to guide you through these career-enhancing programs than authorities who know the system from the inside?

Experience Unequalled Flexibility

Both our online criminal justice degree programs are presented in an asynchronous format that allows you to complete your studies anywhere, at your own pace, with no campus visits required. You can earn a respected university degree while continuing to meet your professional and personal commitments.

Want to be part of building a stronger criminal justice system? Apply now to gain the skills and credentials you need to succeed.