What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
A forensic psychologist applies their knowledge of psychological concepts and principles and implements them to work within nearly every facet of law and the criminal justice system. For example, they evaluate the well-being of children to weigh in on parental disputes over custody rights. Forensic psychologists confirm the existence of mental health ramifications for victims in civil and corporate lawsuits.
Forensic psychologists also assess the psychological health and sanity of criminal defendants in order to decide whether or not they are mentally competent to stand trial. Helping law enforcement authorities solve a wide variety of crimes, forensic psychologists aid in profiling and locating unidentified subjects, interviewing victims, and interrogating criminal suspects.
Forensic psychologists play an integral role in correctional applications and processes, too. In jails and prisons, they evaluate inmates’ mental and emotional well being, consult with criminal attorneys, correctional officers, and others members of prison staff to monitor each inmate’s progress towards his or her rehabilitation. Upon an inmate’s release, forensic psychologists also work with probation officers to ensure that probationers have access to additional treatments, therapy, and any other resources that might help minimize their chances for reoffending in the future.
What is a Forensic Psychology Degree?
A forensic psychology degree encompasses the concepts of criminal justice, law, and psychology. Degrees in forensic psychology are crucial for solving crimes, pulling information from suspects and informants, and the proper treatment of victims both for their safety and recovery.
Beginning with basic principles of psychology, students learn about the psychology of criminals, deviant behavior, and the sociological factors that contribute to high rates of crime. From the field of criminal justice, a degree in forensic psychology affords students courses about victimology, law enforcement, and the correctional system.
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The degree also provides a variety of options for specialization, such as studying the signs of domestic violence and the roles that mental illness and substance abuse play in its prevalence. One can also specialize in the forensic psychology of juveniles, adult offenders, pedophiles and sex offenders, or the laws and mental health policies that impact criminals and their road to rehabilitation.
What are the Careers in Forensic Psychology?
Below is an example of the wide variety of career types available within the field of forensic psychology. However, as there are more possibilities than even this, it is important to understand that the following list is not an exhaustive one. Furthermore, there may be positions available within forensic psychology that combine the duties and job functions from two or more of the specific careers below.
Crime analysts work closely with law enforcement in order to control, predict, and prevent crime. By analyzing criminal data, criminal analysts search for common themes and trends to identify the factors that may cause a surge and/or reduction in crime rates.
From demographic, locational, and economic factors, such predictors may vary depending upon the type of crime and its severity. For example, crime analysts typically employ three different categories of data. The first uses tactical means for severe and violent crimes such as rape, murder, and kidnapping. Strategical analyses are used to determine the most effective utilization of law enforcement according to each particular type of crime teams such as SWAT and first responders. And finally, crime analysts use administrative research methods to provide agencies within the criminal justice system with sets of data they might require to develop and implement effective policies.
A correctional officer is a law enforcement professional who is typically employed by local and county jails, and state and federal prisons. Their overall job description is to control inmates, prevent and stop attempts of escape, and ensure that themselves, fellow correctional staff members, and the entire population of inmates remain as safe as possible at all times.
Performing checks on prison cells to identify and confiscate illegal weapons, drugs, and other forms of contraband, correctional officers must remain alert at all times in order to decrease violence, internal gang activity, and fighting amongst inmates.
A court liaison is an administrative and non-sworn police department employee who supports court officials, such as district attorneys, through a variety of different means. Their most typical duties may include reviewing the court filings and other documents prior to a trial and/or hearing, and ensuring the efficient and quick exchange of information between law enforcement and the district attorney. Court liaisons also aid police officers in their preparation for testimony, and the gathering and organizing of evidence for trial presentation.
An expert witness is someone who possesses a substantial amount of knowledge regarding a particular area or subject qualifying his or her opinion reliable enough to be used as evidence in a criminal trial. As the opposing attorney will undoubtedly call into question an expert witness’ credentials, whomever enlisted the witness for testimony must be sure to thoroughly research and confirm their experience and industry authority beforehand. From doctors to geologists and educators to authorities on construction and demolition, expert witnesses from all sorts of professional backgrounds are regularly used to provide evidence that will either convict or acquit a suspect of charges.
Forensic Case Manager
A forensic case manager is a human services professional who manages a variety of care and intervention resources to help offenders navigate the complications of post-sentence. The ultimate objective of a forensic case manager is to prevent offenders from repeating their crimes in the future. Most forensic case managers concentrate within a specific area of needs such as strictly providing services to children, the disabled, clients with mental illness, or families that have fallen victim to one or more forms of abuse; e.g., domestic, sexual, financial, and/or substance abuse.
Forensic Social Worker
A forensic social worker is a criminal justice and social work professional who assists in navigating the consequences of crime for either victims or perpetrators. Often conflated with traditional social workers because they also help those affected by domestic and neighborhood violence, divorce, juvenile delinquency, homelessness, and poverty, a forensic social worker is characterized by the fact that they essentially serve as a liaison between these individuals, law enforcement, and the court system.
The responsibilities of a forensic social worker may include but are not limited to: identifying signs of criminal activity within their clients, testifying as an expert witness, evaluating clients’ mental states, and recommending appropriate community and therapy resources to criminal defendants.
Known as an investigative journalist or crime reporter, these professionals play a crucial yet overlooked role within forensics and the criminal justice system. As law enforcement officials and detectives are often overwhelmed with growing numbers of unsolved cases, journalists provide much needed assistance for the detection and investigation of crimes.
Their duties may include attending press releases held by police and other authorities, photographing crime scenes, conducting interviews with the families, friends, and coworkers of both victims and suspects, following up on crime-stopper tips, and investigating the information they receive from a wide variety of informants.
A jury consultant is an expert in human behavior who works within the courtroom helping attorneys to pick objective jurors and gain insight into their opinions and conduct. A jury consultant’s duties begin prior to the first day of a trial. In order to develop detailed profiles of jury candidates, jury consultants research the candidates’ backgrounds, compose questions and conduct interviews, examine data regarding the composite of their demographics, examine those statistical significances, and even simulate mock trials for a first-hand understanding of how each juror may conduct themselves.
Once a jury is selected and the trial begins, jury consultants observe the mannerisms, facial expressions, and body language of jurors during the trial to help attorneys formulate strategies and arguments most conducive for achieving their litigation objectives.
Juvenile Correctional Treatment Specialist
Forensic psychologists who enjoy working with children and adolescents may choose to pursue a career as a Juvenile Correctional Therapist or Treatment Specialist. Professionals in this area focus on evaluating young offenders, diagnosing disorders, and developing treatment plans to address behavior and mental health issues. They may work directly with youth who are on probation or parole or they may work within correctional institutions.
Juvenile Treatment Specialists also provide services to the families of young offenders. These services typically include individual and group counseling, substance abuse treatment, family counseling, social skills training, anger management, conflict resolution, parenting skills, and other types of life skills training. These services are offered in the home, in community settings, at school, within residential homes, or inside correctional institutions
Law Enforcement Officer
A law enforcement officer is the criminal justice system’s first responder and first line of defense. Depending upon the governmental branch with which an officer is employed—and the city, county, and/or state he or she lives—the duties of a law enforcement officer may vary. However, most officers provide authorized legal protection for communities and the properties of those people who inhabit them. The various responsibilities of a law enforcement officer might include patrolling neighborhoods, responding to 911 calls, arresting criminal suspects, writing traffic and other types of citations, and testifying against defendants in court.
Court systems and private lawyers hire forensic psychologists for a wide variety of legal activities. Legal Consultants are sometimes asked to assist with jury selection in an attempt to assemble a jury that will have an open mind and view each case fairly. Professionals assisting with jury selection may conduct mock trials, conduct telephone surveys, or run focus groups as a part of the legal team.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers alike may call on a Legal Consultant to testify as an Expert Witness during a trial. Forensic psychologists in this capacity often testify regarding the mental status of a defendant and whether he/she is competent to stand trial. The Legal Consultant might also testify in custody cases to provide a professional opinion regarding parenting ability and the welfare of the children involved.
In general, forensic psychologists who work in this role explain the psychological dynamics of a criminal or civil case to judges, lawyers, and others involved in the case.
Law Enforcement Liaison
Forensic psychologists are often hired by police departments to assist with various tasks. They often work with other law enforcement agents to help develop suicide prevention protocols and other training programs. Professionals in this field might also provide post trauma counseling for victims as well as for family members of police officers.
Stress management is another area in which police departments utilize the skills of Law Enforcement Liaisons. Forensic psychologists who select this career may be asked to teach stress reduction techniques to officers and other employees of local, state, and federal police departments.
A probation officer is a professional who works within the criminal justice system as the principal supervisor of offenders who have either been penalized with probation instead of imprisonment or released from incarceration into probation. Probation officers are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that these individuals adhere to and see through the terms of their probation until a judge determines their sentence is complete.
Probation officers may perform duties such as randomly visiting the homes of offenders for wellness checks, administering drug screenings, aiding probationers in the difficult process of locating and obtaining a job, and even relocating them to healthier and safer environments to reduce their likelihood of reoffending.
Program Directors/Managers & Clinical Directors
A program director and/or clinical director works with a range of criminal justice and legal agencies to organize and establish programs for the mental and psychological wellness of criminal offenders. Implementing clinical and psychology concepts, program directors screen offenders for problematic beliefs and behaviors, evaluate their mental health, and develop strategies to manage each case effectively and safely.
As many offenders suffer from addiction, program directors may often facilitate collaborations between governmental agencies and community centers for the treatment of substance abuse. A program director’s ultimate objectives are to support offender rehabilitation, assist in their reintroduction into the public sphere, and reduce the criminal justice system’s need for future involvement.
A psychological assistant provides crucial support to licensed clinical psychologists in a number of different ways. Psychological assistants may arrange intakes, perform preliminary mental health evaluations, and help with research efforts.
While psychological assistants are not qualified to diagnose patients or determine appropriate courses for treatment, they may provide their supervisors with additional information to help them arrive at accurate diagnoses. Employed by private practices, governmental agencies, and centers for mental health, psychological assistants might also help to ensure patients follow through with treatment and are responding positively to therapy.
A psychology teacher is an educational professional who gives lectures and teaches courses in psychology at the high school, post-secondary, and/or graduate level. Their primary duty is to plan psychology courses by selecting text books, creating a syllabus, assigning homework, and grading tests and quizzes.
In colleges and at universities, psychology teachers may be responsible for conducting research and publishing their work in academic journals. They may also help to guide students towards a career in psychology by advising them how to accomplish each step along the way. Psychology teachers also frequently provide government agencies and other educators with expert advice and direction when needed.
A researcher who works within forensic psychology studies different aspects of criminology. These professionals may conduct their research in a variety of different ways such as questioning suspects, victims, and the familial members and friends of both, studying the history of related crimes along with any conditions and demographic factors believed to be related to their cause, inspecting and studying crime scenes, and examining any remaining evidence and/or evidence considered to be missing.
Employing their knowledge of abnormal and criminal psychology, forensic researchers may also be responsible for compiling and categorizing the very information that forensic and criminal experts use to profile and locate unidentified subjects.
Trial consultants work as part of a legal team for either the prosecution or defense in a trial. The purpose of having a trial consultant on the team is to utilize their knowledge and experience in a given field to help further the cause of the case or client.
Generally, trial consultants have a background in psychology, though this is not a given as attorneys on both sides often employ experts from many fields to help improve their chances of winning at trial. For example, a trial consultant with a background in psychology might assist a defense attorney in developing questions for potential jurors in order to identify jurors that might or might not be sympathetic to the defendant.
Many forensic psychologists pursue careers as Victim Advocates. In this role, psychologists provide individuals who have experienced victimization with counseling, support, and legal advocacy. Victim Advocates help crime survivors and their families obtain safe shelter following a crisis. They also offer education and prevention strategies for survivors as well as ongoing support before, during, and immediately following court procedures. Victim Advocates also make referrals for follow-up care for survivors and their families when needed.