How do I Become a Penologist?

Dayo Akinwande

A penologist is an individual who studies penal systems, management, reform, criminal punishment, and rehabilitation en route to repressing criminal activities. Penologists usually work in prisons or correctional facilities alongside wardens, prison guards, probation officers, and criminologists, among other professionals in the law enforcement field. Typically, penologists are responsible for a host of duties – from designing and implementing self-help programs for prisoners to making suggestions regarding amendments to prison policy – that are supposed to be beneficial to the imprisoned, and by extension, the prison community by reducing anti-social behavior and making the jobs of prison professionals much easier to perform. To become a penologist, certain requirements are needed, including an undergraduate degree, patience, perseverance, and unflappability.

San Quentin State Prison in California.
San Quentin State Prison in California.

Typically, a person would need to get at least a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, criminology, justice administration, or psychology in order to become a penologist. Criminal justice and justice administration is usually preferred because it provides the specific skills needed for the prison or corrections system. In such programs, you will learn its numerous aspects, which include reasons for imprisonment, history of prisons and the criminal justice system, prison life, and administrative issues such as budgeting and overcrowding. You will also learn the different causes and types of unlawful behavior, the time lengths and types of punishment given for such behavior, state and federal laws, and important political issues affecting the prison system, such as the death penalty.

Penologists typically work in prisons or other law-enforcement facilities.
Penologists typically work in prisons or other law-enforcement facilities.

To become a penologist, however, the field of psychology is not to be discounted. Psychology is a social science that involves the study of human behavior. Thus, the penologist acts as a sort of psychologist since he or she evaluates criminal behavior in order to determine the best course of treatment. Such penologists might find themselves learning how to study phenomena such as attention span, cognition, emotion, perception, motivation, personality and interpersonal relationships. This is done to better understand why criminals exhibit unlawful behavior. To become a penologist who wants to focus more on the psychological aspect of criminal rehabilitation, you would need to major in psychology in college.

As a penologist, you will be dealing with a variety of people, including prisoners with major social, drug, and mental problems. In fact, some prison inmates may display aggressive behavior toward you, sometimes unprovoked, and some professionals whom you work with may not always be receptive to your proposals. To become a penologist, you typically will need to exercise patience, perseverance, and unflappability, especially in situations where things are constantly in a state of flux.

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