How to Become a Correctional Psychologist


The niche of forensic and correctional psychology is riddled with unique challenges. If you are a great problem-solver and enjoy working with troubled populations, a career in correctional or forensic psychology might be for you.

Forensic psychology involves close association with those convicted of serious offenses. In the niche of forensic and correctional psychology, you can expect to work directly with offenders and victims. You will be asked to profile, diagnose, and develop treatment plans for those convicted of serious offenses. You might conduct research on violent offenders, and interview the victims and family members of convicted criminals. You will also be asked to balance a variety of roles within the correctional setting.

What Does a Correctional Psychologist Do?

Correctional psychologists play a crucial role within the mental health industry. Correctional psychologists face the daunting task of providing mental health treatment to those placed in custodial correctional settings. The main responsibility of a correctional psychologist is to rehabilitate inmates, and to help them make transition from prison, back into the free world.

Correctional psychologists also use their skills to create a safer atmosphere for staff dealing with inmates. These professionals attempt to lessen the likelihood of physical violence against those working in prisons. In addition to these responsibilities, correctional psychologists often weigh in on parole recommendations, and conduct psychological evaluations of inmates.

Related: What Qualifications Do You Need to be a Criminal Psychologist?

Some issues to consider involve the ethical responsibilities that this job requires. While patients in normal settings have the benefit of treatment which focuses firstly on their own safety, psychologists working within correctional settings must first regard the safety of the correctional facility. Any abuses or violent behaviors must be reported- and therefor undermine fundamental posits of therapeutic intervention. Furthermore, correctional psychologists may be occasionally asked to perform duties that are more like the job descriptions of correctional officers. This may create further ethical problems for the psychologists in question.

What are the Requirements to Become a Correctional Psychologist?

Educational Requirements

While correctional counselors can work with only a master’s degree and counseling license, correctional psychologists must possess a doctoral degree and be fully licensed by the state. Within doctoral programs, candidates must successfully complete a dissertation.

Some doctoral programs require candidates to conduct research on prison populations. In order to become a correctional psychologist, you can expect to take classes on general forensic psychology, sexual offenders, profiling, advanced statistics for behavioral sciences, and the treatment of violent patient populations. You can expect your program of doctoral study to last around five to seven years.

Work Experience

In order to be hired as a correctional psychologist, you must complete a certain number of internship hours- to be determined by your state licensing board. Professional schools of psychology recommend that candidates complete an internship within a correctional setting. In the aforementioned internship, you can expect to work closely with violent offenders, and to aid in the development of treatment plans for those convicted of serious crimes. You may also be asked to interview the victims, family members, and friends of offenders in order to aid in the development of a personality profile.


Licensure requirements vary from state to state. Licenses must be pursued in the state in which you plan to practice. Certain states require that candidates sit for a standardized licensure test. Those seeking certification in the specialty of correctional psychology may apply to the American Board of Professional Psychology. In order to acquire specialty certification, candidates must successfully pass a standardized test.

Personal Skills

In order to work as a correctional psychologist, you must first have a clear understanding of boundaries. You must be able to cope with the incredible stress of working with individuals who have been mandated into treatment by either state or federal powers. Correctional psychologists must be highly intelligent, resilient, patient, organized, personable, and compassionate. They must also be able to suspend their personal beliefs and judgments when working with clients.

What Careers are Similar to Correctional Psychology?

Correctional psychology is closely related to several other jobs both in and outside the realm of psychology:

Prison Psychology: Like correctional psychology, prison psychology focuses on treating mentally ill inmates. This includes administering various psychological tests on inmates, leading individual and group therapy sessions within the prison, working with inmates to prepare them for release, and reporting to prison officials regarding the mental health of their patients. In the event that an inmate becomes suicidal, prison psychologist are often charged with ensuring the inmate’s safety and improved mental health functioning.

Criminal Psychology: A criminal psychologist works with individuals in the criminal justice system, but unlike correctional psychologists, criminal psychologists typically do their work before a person has been sent to prison. Criminal psychologists conduct evaluations, including those regarding IQ, personality, and mental stability. Criminal psychologists use their expertise to determine a defendant’s ability to stand trial. They also provide their expert opinion regarding the defendant’s mental state during their alleged crime. Some work is done to prepare defendants for incarceration while time is also spent working with victims of crimes to begin to heal the wounds from their experiences.

Probation and Parole Officer: Although they aren’t psychologists, probation and parole officers’ jobs are closely related to correctional psychology. These workers focus on the re-entry and reintegration stages of an inmate’s incarceration cycle. Like correctional psychologists, there is a strong evaluation component to this career. Probation and parole officers determine the best course of rehabilitation for each client, administer various psychological and sociological tests, and monitor probationers’ behavior. They often lead educational and psychological groups to help probationers make the transition back to normal life as well.

What is the Salary and Job Outlook for Correctional Psychologists?

According to most correctional psychologists average a yearly income of $86,700 . The entry-level salary for a correctional psychologist averages around $71,400 annually. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of correctional psychology will continue to expand by 3% from 2018 to 2028.

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