Criminal justice

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Criminal Justice is a multi-disciplinary field of study devoted to understanding criminal behavior, learning law enforcement procedures, and ensuring that those going through the system are afforded due process.  Historically, most CJ personnel were trained on the job without any formal social science education, but with the growing complexity of society, there is a need for further education.  In contrast, forensic psychologists (or any other form of practicing psychologist) were required to receive advanced degrees in their field of study before finding gainful employment.  However, a CJ psychologist is not required to have a doctorate. While forensic psychology is related to Criminal Justice, it is but a subset of the field.

According to Donald J. Franklin of Psychology Information Online (2006), it is “the interface between psychology and the law, so all psychological services provided for the legal community are forensic psychological services.”  Some of the duties of a forensic psychologist include: providing therapy for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, family counseling for parents and children during a divorce, providing counseling services to sex offenders and criminals with strong anger issues. While it may not seem much different than ordinary counseling, forensic psychologists often provide their assessments to the court.  The function of criminal justice is to ascertain the guilt or innocence of an accused party while the role of the forensic psychologist is needed to assess his or her mental state.  In capital crimes, they are needed to verify the competence of the accused to stand trial.  Many murders are committed in the throes of psychosis and recently, and more of the higher courts are questioning the ethics behind holding the mentally ill legally responsible for their actions.

According to (n.d.), three possible career paths in the Criminal Justice field include: paralegal, criminologist, and legal assistant.  Paralegals usually work mainly with lawyers.  Their duties include: researching, analyzing, and managing tasks for cases.  Because they do not pass the bar exam, their control over the outcome of a case is quite limited.  Some paralegals work outside the criminal justice system and work with contracts, real estate, etc.  Their work usually does not overlap with that of forensic psychologists, thus both professions occupy different spheres of the criminal justice field.

Criminologists are most similar to forensic psychologists in that they study criminal behavior and the cultural conditions that produce it.  While forensic psychologists are often focused on individual pathology, criminologists analyze dysfunctional cultural norms that give rise to certain behaviors such as the cult of violence in the media.  However, like forensic psychologists, they study profiles of victims and perpetrators.  However, psychologists usually end up working with the aforementioned more closely, including determining the extent an individual can be exposed to society. For example, “As psychologists in clinical practice, the Smiths might be asked to assess individuals for the purpose of making a determination of dangerousness in a variety of contexts.  Consider first, an assessment of risk for the purpose of testimony at a civil commitment hearing.  Mary Smith evaluates Anderson for current impairment and risk for the purpose of commitment under a statute requiring dangerousness due to mental illness”(Schopp, 2007, p. 6).

Like forensic psychologists, criminal justice specialists are committed to making sure an individual’s rights are honored at each stage of the system.  Most personnel have little to do with victim psychology.  The police are usually the entry point into the system.  When an arrest is made, the suspect is read the Miranda rights so they can secure legal assistance before any interrogation takes place.  Secondly, the accused cannot be subject to unlawful search and seizure without a proper warrant as evidence illegally secured would never be admissible in court.  Once the case reaches trial, the accused will be dealing with lawyers, paralegals, and forensic psychologists in some cases.  In court, there is the right against self-incrimination, the right to a speedy trial, and protection from double jeopardy i.e. being tried twice for the same crime.  If convicted, the accused has a right to appeal and to punishment that is neither cruel nor unusual (

After extensive research on possible career choices, my top two would be criminologist and forensic psychologist.  Coupled with a keen interest in the law, human, and social psychology, I have a knack for reading people well, and can generally identify the often-irrational motivations of others.  During high school, I was the go-to person when anyone had a problem and a friend of mine told me that I might as well turn professional and start getting paid for my “services.”  Now I am taking classes to receive formal training and find out exactly what I do not know.  Only then can I say that I will be fully qualified to proceed in my work.  The development of abnormal psychological conditions has always intrigued me.  I am also curious to study the link between our culture and the prevalence of mental illness.  In all the ages of mankind, there were those that lost their sanity, but not nearly as many as today.  Have we become paranoid of different personality patterns to the point that we are over-diagnosing mental illness or were people simply better at hiding it in the past?  As my life’s work, this will be a fascinating challenge for years to come.  Although this might sound like a bit of a cliché from Hallmark specials, I also hope to make a difference in the lives of other people, and get them the help they need.
References (n.d.). Criminal Justice Careers. Accessed 8 May 2007

Franklin, D.J. (2006). Forensic Psycghology. Psychology Information Online. Accessed 8 May 2007

Schopp, R.F. (2007). Expert Opinion. American Psychololgy Law Society. 27(1): 6-8 (n.d.) Your Rights in the Criminal Justice System. Accessed 8 May 2007


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