True crime has taken over in recent years! The psychology behind what makes a person commit crimes has made its way into podcasts, documentaries, and some of our favorite TV shows. But could you make a career out of exploring these ideas?
Yes, you can! Criminal psychologists do the work that true crime experts love to explore every day. Their job isn’t always as fabulous as recording a podcast and not as exciting as Clarice Starling’s, but it is one that is helping people understand what motivates someone to commit theft, burglary, or even murder.
What does a Criminal Psychologist Do?
A criminal psychologist works directly with people who commit crimes to understand the motives and reasoning behind this behavior. Unlike a forensic psychologist, a criminal psychologist works with everything that happens up to the moment a person commits a crime. Forensic psychologists deal with the aftermath of criminal behavior.
This means, for example, that a criminal psychologist may study certain neighborhoods where there is a high level of crime and try to pinpoint certain events, common traits, or other factors that may lead to a higher level of crime. Forensic psychologists may work with people who are incarcerated after they have been convicted of a crime to help them transition back into that neighborhood and not commit further crimes.
Criminal psychologists may use the skills they have gained through study and early experience to become criminal profilers, also known as criminal investigative analysts.
Criminal psychologists may start their career working in the criminal justice system, but they may also enter this specialty after time as clinical psychologists. Either way, this position typically requires a doctorate degree, licensure, internships, and all of the other requirements that psychologists must meet before they enter their practice.
Do criminal psychologists make good money? They can! Not everyone is jumping at the idea of working with criminals directly and understanding why people commit crimes. This high demand increases the salary offered to psychologists with this specialization. The following chart gives different ranges of salaries offered to criminal psychologists in the United States:
Criminal Psychologist Reported Salary
Schools for Criminal Psychology Degrees
Criminal psychology is becoming a more in-demand degree program. Do not skip over these schools, known for their psychology and criminal psychology programs, when you are searching for colleges:
- New York University (New York, NY)
- University of Maryland – College Park (College Park, MD)
- Arizona State University (Phoenix, AZ)
- California State University (Los Angeles, CA)
- University of Houston (Victoria, TX)
- Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, OK)
- The University of Louisana (Monroe, LA)
- University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
- Albizu University (San Juan, PR)
- Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ)
Companies That Hire Criminal Psychologists
Various agencies within the criminal justice system may reach out to criminal psychologists or have one working in-house. Criminal psychologists may also choose to open their own private practice or work as a consultant on a freelance basis.
If you are looking for jobs that hire criminal psychologists (or offer internship opportunities,) keep these on your list:
- Correctional facilities
- Law enforcement agencies
- Federal agencies, like the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit
- Large organizations that are frequently victims of crimes
- College and universities
- Research facilities
Interviews from a Criminal Psychologist
Interested in learning more about criminal psychology? Take a listen to the guy who wrote the book! Laurence Miller, Ph.D., is the author of Criminal Psychology – Nature, Nurture, Culture, and he answers the question, “What is criminal psychology?”
You can also read insights from criminal psychologists on Reddit and other forums.
This answer from a retired criminal profiler on Quora takes you through a day in the life of work in the criminal justice system!
Famous Criminal Psychologists
The work of criminal psychologists has helped correctional officers, law enforcement, and the general public better understand what is going through the mind of a criminal. They also stop criminals before they can hurt other people!
Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky was known for his work as a psychologist in Russia, creating psychological profiles on serial killers and hunting down some of the most notorious ones. He helped to catch Andrei Chikatilo, who admitted to killing dozens of women and children. Bukhavnovsky’s work radically changed the idea of what a serial killer is and what their motives are.
James Brussel used his knowledge as a criminal psychologist to find the culprit of over a dozen bombings at Radio City Music Hall between 1940 and 1950.
Elizabeth F. Loftus is a psychologist whose work with memory has influenced the criminal justice system and how it approaches the credibility of eyewitness testimony.
Lionel Haward helped to shape the role of the criminal psychologist in the 80s, listing the roles and responsibilities that someone with this training could have (clinical, experimental, actuarial, and advisory.)
Philip Zimbardo is most well-known for his notorious Stanford Prison Experiment. Although this experiment took a look at how guards and prisoners interacted, his insights shown a light on how criminals might act based on the “roles” they are given by society. If someone is told that they are meant to be a criminal, they may be more motivated to commit crimes.
Criminal Psychology Examples
Criminal psychologists dig deep into the minds of criminals to prevent further crimes, catch suspects, and educate others about the people behind crimes. If you want to be a criminal psychologist, expect to spend your days:
- Meeting with law enforcement agencies to share insights on where a suspect may move next
- Reading through criminal profiles and noteworthy cases to discover links between criminal activity
- Studying trends in crime through first-hand or secondary research
- Consulting with police departments about trends in crime and what that means for their job positions
- Providing testimony as an expert witness to criminal cases
- Teaching classes at the university level on criminal psychology
Interested in becoming a criminal psychologist? I hope this helped. This is a relatively new field and not one that you can get into overnight, no matter how many podcasts you listen to! There are also some key differences between criminal psychology and its “sister science,” forensic psychology, that are worth noting before you choose a college course.