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.

This course teaches the skills and techniques of effectively developing, drafting, and revising college-level essays toward a specific purpose and audience: active reading, prewriting strategies, sentence and paragraph structure, thesis statements, varied patterns of development (e.g., illustration, comparison and contrast, classification), critical reading toward revision of structure and organization, editing for standard written conventions, use and documentation of outside sources. Students submit two prewriting assignments, and three essays (process analysis, classification and division, argumentation).


  • Use writing skills to construct well-written sentences and active reading skills to understand and analyze text
  • Develop paragraphs using topic sentences, adequate detail, supporting evidence, and transitions
  • Describe the revision, editing, and proofreading steps of the writing process
  • Distinguish between different patterns of development
  • Use prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing to write a formal, college-level essay
  • Recognize how to determine the reliability of secondary sources and to give proper credit to sources referenced in an essay
  • Use prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing to write a formal, college-level essay
  • Use techniques of drafting, evaluating, and creating a sound written argument

This course covers the psychology of biology and behavior, consciousness, memory, thought and language, intelligence, personality and gender, stress, and community influences.


  • Describe the science of psychology, basic structure and function of the human nervous system, and basic structure and function of the sensory system
  • Explain various states of consciousness, learning theories, and thought processes and development
  • Summarize the nature of human motivation and development, the human development cycle, and approaches to understanding and assessing personality
  • Prepare an essay on the topic of conditioning, memory, or motivation and emotion
  • Recognize psychological disorders and available treatments
  • Explain social psychology as it relates to attitudes, influences, behaviors, and stress
  • Use critical thinking skills to determine the likely causes of behaviors of individuals and groups discussed in case studies
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: Experience Sociology

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

An introductory course that explains the origin of life and the relationships between all living things. It describes how a significant number of organisms are structured and how they work, in order to enable students to discuss intelligently the various forms of life and their processes.


  • Analyze cells and their processes for obtaining energy and reproducing.
  • Explain how traits are passed on from one generation to the next.
  • Explain how different species of living things have evolved and are classified.
  • Write responses to fundamental biology essay prompts.
  • Identify the characteristics and behavior of plants and animals.
  • Diagram the anatomy and physiology of the human body.
  • Describe the ecology of living things.
  • Summarize complex biological issues using research articles.


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.

This course provides an understanding of the scientific theory, practices, and techniques used to process a crime scene. It examines how crime scene professionals protect themselves and the evidence at a crime scene. It identifies and describes the different roles that law enforcement professionals execute at the scene of a crime. The course also describes the types of evidence and how evidence is collected and secured before a crime lab processes it.


  • Summarize the importance of physical evidence
  • Explain how to assess, photograph, sketch, map, and document a crime scene
  • Recognize the different methods and technologies used to collect evidence
  • Describe how to analyze and reconstruct a crime scene
  • Write an essay on the methods of investigating a crime scene associated with arson

Textbook: Practical Crime Scene Processing and 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.

The police manager fills a vital role in the operation of a law enforcement agency. This course is designed to provide you with a fundamental understanding of the underlying principles and theories of management, both in general and as they specifically relate to police agencies.


  • Define introductory concepts of police management
  • Analyze the behavioral aspects of police management
  • Identify the functional aspects of police management
  • Categorize major issues in police management
  • Develop solutions for issues with modern police management

Textbook: The Police Manager

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 the main genres of literature — fiction, poetry, and drama.


  • Explain how to effectively read fiction for both knowledge and enjoyment.
  • Identify different styles and forms of poetry.
  • Use what you've learned in this course to discuss, write about, and understand literature.
  • Prepare a critical interpretation of fiction or poetry based on what you've learned in this course.
  • Discuss how literary dramas differ from fiction and poetry.
  • Identify different strategies of critical literary analysis.
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

Many minors commit acts at one time or another that could involve them in the juvenile justice system. Knowledge and understanding of both theory and practice in juvenile justice is important for anyone working in the justice system. Two important differences between juvenile justice and adult justice are that (1) the perpetrators are children and (2) certain acts that adults can lawfully commit would be crimes if committed by children. Historically, juvenile justice emphasized the philosophy of rehabilitation more than the adult criminal justice system. Those who work in the juvenile justice system have an opportunity to impact young lives through timely and intelligent intervention and, perhaps, to permanently set juveniles on a path that will be safe and will allow them to grow into responsible and successful citizens.


  • Identify the fundamentals of juvenile justice system and its historical background
  • Explain the role of police in preventing drugs and gangs among the juvenile offenders
  • Recognize court procedures, methods of interventions, and corrections associated with juvenile justice
  • Distinguish between the issues, proposals for reforms, and factors of victimization for the juvenile offenders
  • Prepare essays on the juvenile crime problem, safe schools, traumatic events, and legal procedures

Additional Course Material:

Textbook: Juvenile Justice

Criminology is the discipline that studies crime and criminal behavior. In this course, you’ll study the causes of crime, reactions, and different forms of criminal behavior. You'll also explore the many interrelationships of the criminal enterprise, the criminal justice system, and the study of the reasons for criminality.


  • Analyze the disciplines of criminology, victimology, and the associated research methods
  • Point out the important theories in criminology
  • Distinguish between violent crime, property crime, and white-collar crime
  • Categorize the special types of crime and the future of crime
  • Analyze theories on the emergence of law

Course Assignment:

  • Research law enforcement policies related to crime rates and criminology theory
(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)

Presents the procedures used in criminal cases that involve the use of computers and cyberspace. Examines the history of computer-based crime and how technology has created new avenues to commit traditional crime as well all new opportunities for criminal behavior. Discusses a wide range of modern day cybercrime including hacking, digital piracy, online fraud, sex crimes, cyberbullying, and cyberterrorism. Looks at key theoretical perspectives, legal challenges, and perspectives on the future.


  • Describe the factors that influence hacking, malware, piracy, identity fraud, and other computer-based traditional statutes crimes.
  • Analyze the implications of various government legislation and the trends to minimize cybercrimes in the future.

Prerequisites: CJS101-Introduction to Criminal Justice

Textbook: Cybercrime and Digital Forensics: An Introduction

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.

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.

DEAC and SARA Accreditation Logos
instructor on computer phone.

A Committed Support System

While you can study independently, you’re not alone! With a dedicated Student Services department, the Student Community, and instructors just a call away, you’ll have access to the support you need.


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 animation.

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? 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.

group of people in a meeting.
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 access to high-speed internet to begin your program. In addition, you will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows 10® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running macOS® or later, Microsoft® Office 2019 or Microsoft 365®, and an email account to complete 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 macOS are trademarks of Apple, Inc. registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.