The Role of Forensic Psychology in Criminal Justice

The Role of Forensic Psychology in Criminal Justice

At the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, film critics and audiences were visibly excited about a particular screening that had been closely followed by forensic psychologists. “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile,” starring Zac Efron, is an American movie based on biographical facts about Ted Bundy, a serial killer who stood trial in Miami and was eventually executed in Northern Florida. In addition to the Efron film, a documentary about Bundy’s life was simultaneously released on Netflix video streaming service, thus rekindling public fascination with the professional field of forensic psychology.

The Bundy case is part of the “true crime” trend that has been dominating popular culture in recent years; it is largely driven by curiosity and media attention, but the forensic psychology angle of looking into personality traits and societal risk factors is also of great public interest.

In essence, forensic psychology involves the application of clinical studies in criminal investigations and court cases. The work of professionals in this field has been glamorized for decades through fictional novels, films and popular television dramas; to this effect, criminal profiling has reached trope status, but there is a lot more to forensic psychology than just helping police detectives track down serial killers.

Defining Forensic Psychology

As its name suggests, forensic psychology brings behavioral research into the courtroom, but it also plays a larger and crucial role in the world of criminal justice. In the movies, forensic psychology professionals are always working with investigators; in real life, their expertise is often required by judges, attorneys, police officers, city planners, school administrators, mental health facilities, correctional institutions, military units, and the private sector.

Forensic psychology often plays a role in punishing and preventing crimes. The word forensic is defined as “the scientific method for investigation of crime”. Therefore, forensic psychology is often described as the merger of law and psychology.

This field of psychology is often focused on the criminals themselves. Professionals in this field are often given the sinister responsibilities of trying to figure out why certain types of people commit crimes; what type of person commits a crime; and how to prevent people from committing crimes.

Real-Life Examples of Forensic Psychology Work

Let’s say a South Florida police department is concerned about organized crime infiltrating its ranks; normally, this would be a matter handled by the internal affairs section, and it would certainly involve city attorneys who would be among the first to call on forensic psychologists.

While there is a history of sophisticated criminals infiltrating police departments, the last thing a city of the county wants is to conduct a fishing expedition and a bogus investigation ending up with scandals and lawsuits. A forensic psychology investigation would look into whether specific behaviors are present to warrant the investigation to continue.

Another situation that may call for forensic psychology evaluation would be a family court case whereby a single mother convicted of felony assault can regain custody of her daughter. Yet another example would be a school where truancy has reached worrisome levels despite the involvement of sheriff’s deputies.

Roles And Responsibilities Of A Forensic Psychologist

A Forensic Psychologist, sometimes referred to as a Criminal Profiler, works with law enforcement agencies to develop a brief profile of criminals, based on common psychological traits. In their line of work they study the behavior of criminals and address anything from psychological theories to legal issues. Other than forensics, a Forensic Psychologist will study clinical psychology and criminal justice.

As you might expect, a Forensic Psychologist works very closely with the justice system. Some of the responsibilities they have are to conduct screenings or assessments of prisoners, investigate psychological disorders among criminal and civil court defendants, and to examine the mental state of criminals to deem if they are able to stand trial. Forensic Psychologists work with law enforcement agencies and are often called to testify in court on behalf of the defendant to support a theory the police or prosecutors have about the criminal defendant’s intent.

Forensic Psychologists also develop a relationship with their clients by providing one-on-one therapy sessions, such as when the police have been involved or there is a court order. These sessions are not only for research and study purposes but for therapeutic reasons to the patient as well. It may require the psychologists to perform activities that are occasionally unpleasant. Prison life is stressful for people who are incarcerated, and they could experience mental health issues while in the care of the prison psychologist. In some cases, the Forensic Psychologist may recommend group sessions. One primary objective that a Forensic Psychologist has is to protect the rights of each client they see.

Employment Outlook for Forensic Psychologists

According to job forecasts estimated by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for psychologists from now until 2026 is expected to grow by 14 percent, which is a rate faster than the average profession. It should be noted that forensic psychologists are mental health professionals, which means that their services can also be required at hospitals, correctional institutions, schools, law enforcement academies, and other settings. One of the job perks is that positions in Forensic Psychology often offer a nine to five schedule.

As of May 2017, median annual wages for forensic psychologists employed by state and federal governments were around $94,000. Criminal justice degrees who work as forensic science technicians prior to entering graduate programs can make about $57,000 per year; should they choose to work as law enforcement officers before graduate school, their average annual salary would be a little higher at $63,000.

Many Forensic Psychologists can be found at rehabilitation centers, law firms, and government agencies but also prisons are common places of employment for these professionals. Some might their own private practice or work in a small group of psychologists. Location influences salary as a Forensic Psychologist. They can expect to earn a comfortable salary if they live within the city limits, and are employed by the government, such as a police department but working in rural areas or employed by a non-governmental firm, might not make as much.

Educational Requirements in a Forensic Psychology Career

The American Psychological Association recognizes forensic psychology as a professional field requiring completion of a graduate research program plus an accredited internship. A master’s degree would be the prelude to a doctorate program, and the best stepping stone in this regard would be a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Florida National University offers a Bachelor of Science program in Criminal Justice, and this is a course of study that can be completed online; this degree can be followed by employment in law enforcement, legal or clinical setting that can serve as a solid base of experience while pursuing graduate courses. FNU is an accredited degree-granting institution that offers financial aid and flexible schedules for working adults; for more information about our criminal justice program, contact one of our admissions counselors.

Studying Criminal Justice at FNU

As American society continues to grow and become more diverse, so will criminal activity. Thankfully, violent crimes of opportunity have decreased in terms of incidence, but crime tends to increase parallel to population growth. a criminal justice career can be a smart move for individuals looking for job security; in addition to forensic psychology, a criminal justice degree can lead to careers in law enforcement, corrections, at criminal defense law firms, or in the court system.

FNU now offers the Master of Forensic Psychology program which provides students with the professional education needed to function at the finest level in a variety of forensic settings where psychology is used including courts, law enforcement, criminal justice, national security
offices, prisons, social services agencies, child welfare agencies, and treatment facilities.

Learn more about the FNU criminal justice degree program by contacting one of our career counselors today. Keep in mind that FNU is a fully accredited institution of higher learning where you can apply for financial aid, participate in athletics and take advantage of our online learning programs. For more information regarding a career in Psychology and Counseling visit UniversityHQ.