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Criminal Justice Associate Degree Curriculum Details

Your four semester Associate Degree in Criminal Justice curriculum consists of courses covering criminal justice topics such as police operations, the court system, the correctional system, criminal law and more.

Program Goal and Outcomes

Program Goal

To prepare students for professional opportunities in the criminal justice field and for a wide array of entry-level positions in criminal justice, or to prepare for further training.

Upon completion of the program, students will be able to...
  • Demonstrate effective written and interpersonal communication skills
  • Demonstrate a high level of inquiry, analytical, and problem-solving skills
  • Demonstrate effective quantitative skills
  • Demonstrate computer and information literacy
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts, natural sciences, and social sciences
  • Discuss the legal system in the United States, including the origins and history of the law, the development of common law, statutory law, constitutional law and how this affects the criminal justice system
  • Analyze the substantive and procedural operations of the criminal justice system with focus on the prosecutorial, judicial, and defense functions
  • Evaluate issues of justice, professionalism and ethics within law enforcement, the courts, and the private sector security industry
  • Examine the external and internal factors that control the dynamics of law enforcement from the police, prosecution, and defense perspectives as they apply to ethical, moral, and legal applications
  • Discuss the origins and development of the law of search and seizure on the federal and state levels, the ethical and legal issues surrounding the exclusionary rule as it impacts the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, and the workings of an adversarial system of justice
  • Discuss the principles of criminal responsibility and the requirement of culpable mental states, the various defenses used to negate or to mitigate criminal liability, victims' interaction with the criminal justice system, and the prevailing theories and philosophies for criminal punishment including restitution, retribution, rehabilitation.
  • Discuss and compare recognized biological, psychological, and sociological theories about the causes of criminal behavior and the types of criminal behavior and methods for predicting future crime.
  • Analyze the management and organizational components in the modern police organization and the various methods and theories of policing, including reactive, proactive, problem-solving, community policing.

Semester 1

Basic Skills Assessment

All degree applicants are required to complete two Basic Skills Assessments, one in reading and one in math, to determine the level of readiness for beginning their selected program. Additional studies may be required.

Succeed by learning how to use your Penn Foster program, and become familiar with the criminal justice system.


  • Understand how to use your Student Portal, including your My Homepage and My Courses pages.
  • Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers.
  • Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.
  • Describe how the police legal system and corrections system work together to solve crimes, make arrests, prosecute cases, and deal with convicted offenders.
  • Identify the different tasks that police officers, private security personnel, and federal law enforcement officers do in their jobs.
  • Outline the steps of the criminal justice process, starting with the arrest, moving through
Get better at finding and using information!


  • Search the Internet more effectively.
  • Get tips about search engines and reliable websites.
  • Learn how to search libraries and other information centers for important, useful information.
Begin your study of the exciting field of criminal justice.


  • Discuss the nature of crime and how it affects society
  • Explain the history, organization, role, and function of policing, as well as its issues
  • Identify the various roles of the judicial process and the stages of a trial
  • Describe the role that correctional institutions have fulfilled, their design, the people who live there, and the difficulties encountered when leaving the structured environment of prison
  • Recognize how juvenile justice and terrorism impact criminal justice in the United States
This course looks at the relationship among the judiciary, defense, and prosecution involved in the United States Courts system. You're studies start with an overview of the basic structures of courts. You'll also look to the successive steps involved in prosecutions and cover topics such as plea bargains, trials, juries, sentencing, and appeals.


  • Point out the structure and working process of the legal system in the United States
  • Analyze the emergence of law in the different systems of litigation in America
  • Distinguish between the civil and criminal litigation in state and federal courts in the US
  • Analyze articles relating to the US court system
This course will allow you to build your computer skills through a combination of reading and hands-on practice. You will navigate popular software tools such as Windows® and Microsoft® Office.


  • Create, edit, and illustrate Microsoft® Word™ documents.
  • Apply formulas and functions to large data sets in Microsoft® Excel.®
  • Incorporate useful charts and graphs to summarize data.
  • Add, delete, sort, and lay out table data.
  • Create presentations in Microsoft® PowerPoint® using advanced tools, tables, and charts.

Get the skills and techniques you need to develop, draft, and revise college-level essays.


  • Identify your purpose and audience. Read actively and critically.
  • Edit for standard written conventions.
  • Submit three essays (process analysis, classification and division, and argumentation) and a course journal.

Additional Course Material
Textbook: Successful College Writing

This course will introduce you to the relationship between biology and behavior. You will learn about the human development throughout the life span.


  • Identify major psychological theories.
  • Discuss consciousness, memory, thought, and language.
  • Define intelligence, personality, and stress.
  • Analyze the role of gender in psychology.
  • Explain how community influences behavior.

Additional Course Material:

  • Textbook: Psychology and Your Life
Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 2

This course is designed to introduce you to social structure and social interaction through groups, networks, and organizations. Study politics, the economy, population, social movements, technology, and social change.


  • Describe deviance, crime, and social control.
  • Discuss the effects of stratification, racial and ethnic inequality, sex, gender, and sexuality.
  • Examine the role of health, family, education, and religion in human behavior.

Additional Course Materials:

Textbook: Society: The Basics

Supplement: Seeing Ourselves: Classic, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Readings in Sociology

With this course, you'll review the history of criminal law, from its start in the common law (and the principles of applying case law) to its contemporary forms of statutory and regulatory law. You'll look at crimes and their underlying elements, consider what a prosecutor needs to show in order to secure a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt, examine the traditional form of criminal law as well as strict liability and victimless crimes, discuss a range of criminal offenses, such as inchoate and property-based crimes, crimes of violence and administrative crimes, and consider the excuses, justifications, and defenses to the prosecution of such activities.


  • Explain the principles of criminal responsibility
  • Distinguish between morality and law
  • Describe how crimes are classified
  • Cite the origins of criminal law
  • Describe the police power of government
  • Analyze constitutional limitations on criminal liability
  • Cite the basic elements of a criminal act
  • Deconstruct inchoate, or anticipatory, crimes, crimes against the person, and crimes against property, habitation, and public morality
  • Outline the various defenses and punishments

Course Assignment:

  • Complete a research project where you’ll assume the perspective of a criminal defense lawyer in two high-profile murder cases.
Responding to situations ethically is crucial to public protection and the integrity of the legal profession.


  • Describe morality and ethics within the context of human behavior.
  • Discuss issues of ethics and law enforcement.
  • Discuss the ethics of both punishment and correction.

Course Assignment:

  • Complete a research project and provide ethical solutions to five given scenarios.
(Choose one) ...

SCI110 - Earth Science

This course will allow you to learn about planet Earth and the various aspects of the environment.


  • Describe specific characteristics of Earth.
  • Describe different types of rocks and minerals.

SCI120-Introduction to Biology

This course will allow you to explore the origin of life and the relationships among all living things.


  • Explain how organisms are structured and how they work.
  • Discuss the various forms of life and their processes.

Additional Course Material:

  • Textbook: Essentials of Biology


This course will allow you to develop a healthier lifestyle by making smarter nutritional decisions.


  • Explain the various components of nutrition as a science.
  • Describe nutrition from a global viewpoint.
  • Understand the importance of water and exercise.
  • Identify the basics of human growth and aging.
  • Discuss food safety procedures.

Additional Course Material:

  • Textbook: Personal Nutrition
Looks at the role of policing in America; discusses the existence of a police subculture, the role of management, and the nature of patrolling; considers different strategies for investigating and solving problems; includes a discussion about ethics, civil liability, and possible directions for policing in the future.


  • Explain the roles and functions of police in American society
  • Describe the development of policing, and recognize how it shaped policing in the modern era
  • Describe the processes involved in police training, selection, and development, including the impact of race and gender
  • Discuss the structure of police organizations, and describe levels of administration and supervision
  • Explain how various police operations are carried out, including those performed by patrol, investigations, traffic, and paramilitary units
  • Discuss the issue of police discretion, including how and when police officers use discretion and its effects
  • Define police use of force, and discuss the patterns and legal requirements for use of force
  • Describe the major perspectives of police behavior, and discuss why the police can be seen as a subculture
  • Describe the role of ethics within police operations, and list several forms of police deviance
  • Discuss the nature of criminal and civil liability as they relate to police operations
  • Describe the factors that impact the relationship between the police and the public, and explain the concepts of crime prevention and community policing
  • Discuss the nature and extent of the drug problem in the United States, and describe the nation's strategy in terms of police planning and operations
  • Discuss the issues associated with terrorism and homeland security as they affect society and the institution of policing

Textbook: Policing in America

Course Assignment:

  • Complete a research project regarding the investigation and analysis of “victimless” crimes.
Crime scene investigation entails mastering and practicing acceptable procedures and techniques, and it has become a growing concern in the law enforcement practice.


  • Describe general crime scene investigation operations and tactics.
  • Properly handle physical evidence.
  • Understand the nature of criminal and civil liability as they relate to criminal investigation.
Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 3

Become familiar with the procedures used in criminal cases.


  • Outline the framework for studying criminal procedures.
  • Handle matters involving arrests, search warrants, and probable cause.
  • Describe exceptions to search warrant requirements.
  • Discuss admissions, confessions, and pretrial identification.

Course Assignment:

  • Complete a research project and apply what you’ve learned about criminal procedures to a real-life criminal justice case as chronicled in the book, The Innocent Man.
This course discusses aspects of law enforcement management and supervision.


  • Discuss community policing and problem-oriented policing adopted by progressive police agencies.
  • Describe the latest research on supervision, organizational theory, and police administrative policy.

Additional Course Material:

Textbook: Organizational Behavior and Management in Law Enforcement

Private security departments must focus on the delivery of competent service to organizations and communities.


  • Compare private security to public law enforcement.
  • Describe how the private security industry is regulated.
  • Identify when a private security officer may make an arrest.
  • Identify when the use of force and deadly force are justifiable.
This course is designed to introduce you to the correctional system in the United States. To this end, you’ll explore the American correctional context, correctional practices, and a number of correctional issues and perspectives.


  • Point out the importance of corrections, the associated laws, and the types of issues
  • Categorize the types of correction programs, reforms, and the issues in them
  • Differentiate between the various correctional programs, treatment methods, and the changes made with time
  • Analyze the corrections used on different convicts and the factors that determine these corrections
  • Apply the philosophy and knowledge of corrections to initiating the process of reentry

Additional Course Material:

Textbook: Corrections: The Essentials

Study basic algebraic concepts. Review the systems of equations, polynomials, and radicals. Learn how to factor polynomial expressions and simplify rational expressions.


  • Explain basic algebraic concepts
  • Solve and graph linear equations and inequalities
  • Analyze relations, functionality, and systems of linear equations
  • Prepare algebraic operations on polynomial and rational expressions and equations
  • Solve problems involving radicals and complex numbers

Additional Course Material:
Textbook: Intermediate Algebra

(Choose one) ...

HUM102-Art Appreciation

In this course, you will gain an understanding of artistic media, historical periods and artistic movements, the roles of the artist and the viewer, and the principles of art criticism.


  • Define the language, visual elements, and principles of design of art
  • Identify two-dimensional media
  • Identify three-dimensional media
  • Explain the evolution of art from ancient Mediterranean cultures through eighteenth century Europe
  • Identify features and popular examples of art throughout the history of African, Asian, Pacific, and American cultures
  • Compare the genres of the Modern and Postmodern eras of art from around the world

Additional Course Material:
Textbook: Living with Art, 11th Edition

HUM104-Music Appreciation

In this course, you'll understand how to appreciate music by learning about the roles of the composer and the listener, the principles of music theory and instrumentation, musically significant historical periods, and varying styles of music.


  • Identify the building blocks of music a composer can use to create a piece, such as rhythm, melody, harmony, texture, form, and timbre
  • Explain the evolution of Western music through history, from the Middle Ages to the twenty-first century
  • Differentiate between the music of the baroque era and the musical styles of previous time periods
  • Recognize the major characteristics of classical music, including form, melody, and instrumentation
  • Discuss the musical trends and innovations that occurred during the romantic era
  • Trace the evolution of American popular music in the twentieth century
  • Recognize the influence of world music on modern Western composition

Additional Course Material:
Textbook: Experience Music, Fourth Edition

ENG115 - Introduction to Literature 

This course will allow you to develop your critical thinking skills and broaden your knowledge of literature.


  • Identify themes and forms of literature.
  • Define the main genres of literature—poetry, fiction, and drama.
Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Semester 4

Examine the issues of crime and justice with respect to race and ethnicity.


  • Discuss how race and ethnicity affect the likelihood of being victims of crime or offenders.
  • Describe how people of various races and ethnicity are treated in criminal courtrooms and by police.


  • Police Studies – CJS120
Juvenile justice is a field for criminal justice professionals that offers a great deal of hope for permanent rehabilitation.


  • Explain the philosophies and theories of the juvenile justice system.
  • Describe how children develop in various situations.
  • Identify the risk factors for delinquency.
  • Discuss the different types of corrections available to juvenile offenders.

Additional Course Material:

Textbook: Juvenile Justice

Criminology is the study of the nature, extent, causes, and control of criminal behavior.


  • Discuss the many interrelationships of the criminal enterprise, the criminal justice system, and the study of the reasons for criminality.
  • Become familiar with the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS).
  • Identify the different types of research used in the criminal justice field.
  • Understand the purpose of research.

Course Assignment:

  • Complete a research project on racial profiling, street gangs, motor vehicle theft and the fourth and fifth amendments.
(Choose three) ...

CJS215-Terrorism (3 credits)

Terrorism became a major concern for all American citizens after the September 11, 2001 attacks, especially for law enforcement professionals.


  • Discuss the theory and practice of domestic and international terrorism.
  • Describe the world of the terrorist.
  • Understand the role of law enforcement and security to keep our country functioning and free of domestic terrorism.

Prerequisite: CJS120-Police Studies

Textbook: Terrorism and Homeland Security

CJS220-Organized Crime  (3 credits)

Learn about organized criminal groups ranging from tight-knit outlaw motorcycle clubs to international groups that now operate on a global scale.


  • Outline the origins of American organized rim in various cities and among different ethnic groups.
  • Analyze the development of organized crime internationally.
  • Describe how law enforcement has responded to organized crime on a local, national, and international level.

Prerequisite: CJS101-Introduction to Criminal Justice

Textbook: Organized Crime

CJS225-White Collar Crime  (3 credits)

White collar crime is financially motivated and nonviolent crime committed for illegal monetary gain. It is very different from other crimes, not only in the way the offenders are treated but also in the way it impacts society as a whole.


  • Identify white-collar crime
  • Explain the costs and victims of white-collar crime
  • Contrast various theories of white-collar crime
  • Explain occupational and governmental crime
  • Summarize various state-corporate crimes, finance crime, and technocrime
  • Analyze attempts to police and regulate white-collar crime
  • Critique and defend legal approaches to white-collar crime

Textbook: White Collar Crime: The Essentials

CJS245-Security: Security/Loss Prevention (3 credits)

This course covers the primary functions of private security personnel.


  • Use proven strategies to prevent and reduce loss that normally results from crime, accidents, fire, error, disasters, and mismanagement.
  • Maintain order on private property.
  • Protect people and property against crimes and disasters.

CJS255-Security: Computer-Based Crime (3 credits)

Cyberspace is an environment favorable to committing some traditional crimes and to creating new ones.


  • Classify computer crimes in terms of targets, means, and incidentals.
  • Describe the processing of information at the scene, including taking pictures, making sketches, looking for trace evidence, locating evidence, and bagging and tagging.

Prerequisites: CJS101-Introduction to Criminal Justice

CJS260-Police: Crisis Intervention (3 credits)

Crises are a normal part of our lives. Whether it’s a devastating flood, a terrorist attack, cancer, or a loss of primary income, crisis workers have to be able to help clients overcome negative feelings and painful emotions.


  • Deal with people in crisis in a culturally sensitive manner.
  • Describe the different types of crises experienced in adolescence.
  • Understand how to handle loss, posttraumatic stress disorder, and crises of victimization.

Prerequisites: Police Studies – CJS120

CJS265-Security: Management (3 credits)

The security manager functions in the roles of loss prevention specialist, administrator, investigator, educator, team player, risk assessor, planner, budget master, and troubleshooter.


  • Outlines the goals of security management.
  • Describe regulations in the security industry.
  • Discuss the major threats to safety and security.

CJS307-Victimology (3 credits)

For every crime committed, there's a victim. Study the social science of victimology


  • Identify a victim's rights.
  • Describe the relationship between the victim and the criminal justice system.
  • Discuss how the criminal justice system might be changed to better serve victims.

CJS350-Police: Community Corrections (3 credits)

Not all offenders who break society’s laws are incarcerated in jails or penitentiaries. Many such offenders stay in the community and have their behavior monitored by long-standing systems such as probation, parole, house arrest, or other programs.


  • Describe the role and function of probation and parole.
  • Discuss the issues involved with community-based corrections for the drug and alcohol addicted, the mentally ill, sex offenders, women, and juveniles.
Proctored Examination

You will be required to complete a proctored exam on selected courses each semester. These assessments will evaluate the knowledge and skills that you learned during the semester. You choose the time, the location, and the qualified exam supervisor.

Additional Details

Associate Degrees from Penn Foster College are awarded under licensing from the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education.
The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated and recommended college credit for many Penn Foster College courses. Students who plan to continue their education with another school after completing coursework at Penn Foster College should check with that school regarding credit transfer policies. No form of accreditation guarantees that any learning institution will accept credits from any school as transfer credits.

Penn Foster College Accreditation & Licensing Details

Penn Foster College has been nationally accredited for over 40 years, and has met the high standards of integrity and performance set by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) in Washington, D.C. Penn Foster College has been thoroughly reviewed and has earned several important accreditations and licensing. We also participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements.

Surround Sound Support

Surround Sound Support

Whether you prefer chat, text, email, or phone, our faculty is here to help you achieve your goals. Penn Foster students also have access to our expert team of Success Coaches to help with budgeting for your education, career guidance, or simply some extra motivation.
Over the course of the Penn Foster College Criminal Justice Associate Degree program, you will have the opportunity to attend live or recorded webinars to help you better understand your lessons. The live webinars will allow you to ask our instructors questions in real time.
Progress Tracking and Goal Setting Tools

Progress Tracking and Goal Setting Tools

Our customizable goal-setting tools will help you create a schedule and stick to it. Need some extra time to complete a lesson or take an exam? Not a problem - you can adjust your study plan at any time to set a pace that works for you.

Student Community

Looking to connect with other Penn Foster students? Our Student Community is the perfect place for you to interact with your peers - as well as Penn Foster faculty and staff - to discuss your online learning experience, congratulate fellow students, and share your Penn Foster experience.
Penn Foster Student Community
Penn Foster Sample Lesson

Sample Criminal Justice Associate Degree Lesson

Penn Foster courses are written in a way that is easy to understand, and materials are broken down into manageable lessons. Take a look at what a Criminal Justice Associate Degree course would look like.
Computer Specifications
As you know this is an online academic program. This means you will need high-speed internet access to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 7® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running OS X® or later, and an email account to participate in and complete your program.
Access to Microsoft® Office 365 is a requirement for this program.
We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.
Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
Apple, Mac, and OS X are trademarks of Apple, Inc. registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
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