Criminal Psychology Careers: Salary Info & Job Descriptions

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Learn about careers in criminal psychology. Get job duties, salary, education and licensing information. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of a criminal psychology career.
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Careers in Criminal Psychology

Criminal psychology, according to the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology, is the analysis of the motivations, behavior and actions of criminals. Criminal psychology can lead to several different careers in the criminal justice system or in research fields. Here they are at a glance:

Criminal Psychologists Criminal Justice Professors Sociologists
Career Overview Study and analyze criminals and their behavior Teach criminal justice courses to college and university students Study how social trends and relations influence behavior, such as criminal behavior
Education/Training Requirements Doctoral degrees Doctoral degrees, but master's degrees for community colleges. Master's or doctoral degrees
Program Length 2 years for master's degree, 6 years for doctoral degree 2 years for master's degree, 6 years for doctoral degree 2 years for master's degree, 6 years for doctoral degree
Additional/Other Training One year internship in doctoral program for clinical psychology Graduate assistant experience with teaching credentials Graduate-school internships
Certification and Licensing State-based licensing; some employers prefer certification Not Applicable Not Applicable
Experience Requirement Graduate-school supervision experience, internship or psychological residency Teaching and research experience during graduate school Internships and research experience
Job Outlook for 2012-22 For all psychologists, as fast as average (12%) for all occupations* For criminal justice and law enforcement professors, as fast as average (13%) for all occupations* Faster than average (15%) for all occupations*
Median Salary $69,561 (2015) for all psychologists** $57,200 (2014) for criminal justice and law enforcement professors* $72,810 (2014)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com.

Criminal Psychologists

Criminal psychology is an interdisciplinary field in which clinical, counseling, forensic or social psychologists study criminal behavior. Criminal psychologists observe criminal actions and behavior, as well as refer to scientific literature in order to explain the criminal's actions. They help law enforcement and those in the criminal justice system find out the reasons a specific criminal behaves in a certain way and what his or her actions might be next. Many criminal psychologists may work for private practices, work as researchers for psychological associations or for law enforcement or work as consultants.

Requirements

According to the BLS, psychologists need a doctoral degree to work in a clinical or counseling setting. Doctoral degrees may result from Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs. School programs may require you to already hold a master's degree in psychology. To gain pre-professional experience, graduate students work with faculty and staff at psychological facilities during or after graduate school as part of postdoctoral work. Internships are also available and are recommended during graduate school. Graduate school work related to criminal psychology is recommended if you wish to concentrate in the field. Once you have graduated, you need to pass your state's clinical licensing examination. Completing this examination allows you practice clinical psychology in your state.

In December 2012, employers for criminal psychologists were looking for the following:

  • A Washington, DC. hospital needs a clinical psychologist who can interact with law enforcement and criminal justice agents concerning patients. The psychologist will assess the patients and consult with proper authority figures on the psychological and emotional health of patients. The candidate must hold a doctoral degree in psychology, a psychology license and one year of clinical experience.
  • A military facility in Virginia needs a psychologist who can help with counter-terrorist investigations. The psychologist must apply criminal psychology and criminal justice theories to enhance the effectiveness of investigations and current federal operations against foreign and domestic terrorists. He or she must also have a doctoral degree in psychology and have 52 weeks of criminal psychology experience.
  • A health clinic in California needs a psychologist who can work closely with people in the region's criminal justice system. The candidate for the position may have a background in nursing or social work, but a licensed psychologist may also work with the clinic. The psychologist needs to work with law enforcement and suggest proper treatment for criminals in the criminal justice system.

Standing Out

If you want you want to stand out among competitors or advance further in your profession, you might want to consider certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). The ABPP provides specialty certification for clinical, public safety and forensic psychologists (www.abpp.org). There are several academies under the ABPP that provide the specific certifications. For example, the American Board of Clinical Psychology provides clinical psychology certification for licensed Ph.D. graduates with one year internship experience and one year postdoctoral experience. The ABPP also provides certification in forensic psychology for licensed graduates with either a year of postdoctoral forensic psychology training or five years of working experience in forensic psychology, four of which that need to be postdoctoral.

You can also gain certification in police and public safety psychology. The ABPP public safety certification is for licensed graduates with 100 hours of supervised work in police and public safety psychology with an additional 3,000 postdoctoral hours of direct work in police and public safety psychology.

Criminal Justice Professors

Criminal justice professors are college or university professors that teach post-secondary courses on criminal justice and criminal psychology. In addition, criminal justice professors publish studies they research on various topics related to criminal psychology and justice. Professors balance their weekly schedules with faculty and department responsibilities, preparing for lectures and teaching students, correcting student work, researching criminal justice topics, performing consulting work for public or private enterprises and traveling for research and academic purposes.

Requirements

All professors need a graduate degree. For most colleges and universities, professors need a Ph.D. However, many junior and community colleges only require candidates to hold a master's degree in criminal justice. Graduate work in a Ph.D. program involves a combination of taking graduate-level criminal justice courses, working on research projects with professors or classmates, teaching courses for experience and working on a dissertation.

In December 2012, employers for criminal justice professors were looking for the following:

  • A New Jersey university needs an assistant professor for its criminal justice department. The candidate is required to hold a master's degree and have knowledge in homeland security. The professor must teach nine credit courses per semester.
  • A Maryland university needs an assistant professor in criminology. The candidate must be knowledgeable on the intersections between crime and gender and race. The professor must also coordinate undergraduate internships across major urban areas in Maryland.
  • A Texas university needs an assistant professor in criminal justice. The professor needs to be trained in law enforcement administration and community relations with law enforcement.

Standing Out

Once you graduate from your doctoral program, you need to highlight skills and experience in order to be hired in the competitive teaching market. Having above-average teaching, research and outside consulting experience are attractive traits that criminal justice departments will like on your resume.

Sociologists

Sociologists are academics or researchers who study how societal institutions influence individual behavior. Although there are many sub-fields to sociology, sociologists interested in criminal psychology will study how social institutions, cultures and economic class influence a person's criminal behavior. According to the BLS, about 36% worked as academics at colleges and universities in 2012, while 30% of sociologists worked in research and development. Typical work schedules for sociologists include researching topics, teaching courses if they work at colleges and interviewing individuals in field research.

Requirements

The BLS states that sociologists need either a master's or doctoral degree. Both degrees can help a sociologist teach at community or baccalaureate colleges. However, research-oriented enterprises, such as research firms or universities, will most likely hire sociologists who have a Ph.D. Academic work for sociologists need to stress research methods, such as statistics, demography, surveying, policy analysis and criminal law.

In December 2012, employers for sociologists were looking for the following:

  • A Connecticut university needs a sociologist. Candidates need to be trained in health and aging and also have a concentration in African-American, Latino or Caribbean studies.
  • A Virginia university wants to hire an assistant professor in sociology. The sociologist should know critical race theory, media studies and the sociological uses of information technology.
  • A Pennsylvania university needs to fill a position for a tenured-track sociology professor position. The professor should be knowledgeable in media studies and the sociology of technology.

Standing Out

The BLS explains that since competition for sociologist positions is expected to be strong, having attractive research credentials may help with future employment. Field research and statistics are some of the skills that many research firms or colleges desire from their sociologists. The BLS notes that applied sociology is another field of research that many employers find desirable in the current job market. Applied sociology details the use of sociological tools to explain and rectify social conditions. A criminal psychology background in applied sociology may be appealing to employers.

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