If the idea of working with a criminal population excites you, a career as a prison psychologist might be for you. Prison psychologists play incredibly important roles within society. They are crucial parts of the rehabilitation of both common criminals, and the gravely criminally insane. Prison psychologists are often charged with the task of treating murderers, violent offenders, sexual predators, and white collar criminals. They often work in maximum security prisons, jailhouses (for assessment purposes), courthouses, and asylums geared towards the criminally insane. Prison psychologists often testify as expert witnesses inside courtrooms. Additionally, they are involved in stabilizing those found incompetent to stand trial.
Prison psychologists get to experience both the best and worst of human nature. They regularly listen to stories of untold violence, abuse, and drug addiction- and work to change these cycles within people’s lives. Prison psychologists are also often asked to weigh-in on an inmate’s progress before the prisoner is granted parole. As a prison psychologist you will be exposed to some of the worst atrocities that human beings are capable of, all the while attempting to keep a compassionate stance for the criminals that committed these offences. Prison psychologists must also actively work to prevent inmates from committing additional crimes while incarcerated, and after release.
Related Reading: How to Become a Prison Counselor
Prison psychologists are often required to aid in the preparation of case files and reports. Additionally, as a prison psychologist, you will be required to administer a battery of tests to incoming inmates. These tests include, but are not limited to IQ testing, thematic tests, personality tests, and many more. Prison psychologists help to prepare inmates for release, and communicate directly with parole boards. They also facilitate therapy groups for violent offenders. Prison psychologists work diligently to curb the violent impulses of inmates. Often, they work closely with prison psychiatrists to both diagnose and treat mental disorders within their prison population. You will also be responsible for managing suicidal inmates. As a prison psychologist you will also be responsible for the treatment of patients with schizophrenia and a variety of other psychotic disorders. Part of a prison psychologist’s job is to help seriously mentally ill inmates manage hallucinations and delusions while incarcerated.
The educational requirements to become a prison psychologist are similar to those of clinical psychologists. Educational requirements must be met in accordance with the laws of the state in which you wish to practice. Prison psychologists are sometimes also required to undergo fingerprinting and vigorous background checks.
You need to start your journey with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. However, to become a prison psychologists you must obtain a minimum of a Master’s degree with specialization in prison or criminal psychology from a school accredited by the American Psychological Association. In order to get into graduate programs, most aspiring prison psychologists might be required to take the GRE and score at least 1250. You must also maintain a high GPA during your bachelor’s program. Some of the classes needed include advanced counseling classes, dealing with violent offenders, self-defense, as well as a battery of courses which deal exclusively with the criminal mind and sociopathy.
Work Experience Requirements
Those who want to become prison psychologists are required to successfully complete at least one (usually two) lengthy internships. You will likely finish a federal internship in which you conduct private and possibly court-appointed evaluation of inmates of questionable mental health, in order to determine if those who are accused are able to stand trial. You will be required to work closely with the prison population, while maintaining strict boundaries in accordance with prison policies.
Those interested in becoming prison psychologists may pursue an LPC (licensed professional counselor) or and LCPC license by sitting for a board examination. In addition to successfully passing the licensure examinations, candidates must have a Master’s degree or higher, in either counseling psychology or a Master’s level degree in forensic psychological studies.
Necessary Personal Skills
A job as a prison psychologist is perhaps the most demanding of all positions within clinical psychology. You must possess a strong work ethic, an ability to cope with high stress environments, compassion, a clear sense of boundaries, and a belief that humans can and do change. In addition to this skill set, prison psychologists need strong administrative abilities, good communication skills, and emotional resilience. Prison psychologists must also be able to quickly adapt to changes within the environment for safety reasons.
eHow notes that the average salary for a prison psychologist is 57,000 per year (1). This is only slightly lower than the national average for counseling therapists. In New York City, prison psychologists can expect to make an average annual income of 85,990 (1).