Become a Penologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Mar 05, 2020

Find out how to become a penologist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in penology.

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  • 0:03 Becoming a Penologist
  • 0:30 Penologist Career Requirements
  • 1:15 Get a Bachelor's Degree
  • 1:41 Perform an Internship…
  • 2:08 Obtain Employment

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Become a Penologist

Penologists work within the prison system to identify the optimal way to operate prisons and rehabilitate inmates. This position can involve analyzing prison policies, designing group programs and/or determining the best treatment for individual prisoners. Assisting others who find themselves incarcerated can be professionally satisfying, although penologists sometimes struggle with the potential negativity of the prison setting.

Penologist Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Criminal justice, criminology, psychology, sociology
Experience Requirements vary by job setting; some jobs are entry-level
Key Skills Excellent written and oral communication, strong listening and decision making abilities, understanding of criminal behavior causes and an understanding of the different ways to rehabilitate criminals
Salary (2018) $82,050 yearly (median for all sociologists, which includes penologists)

Sources: University of Alabama, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Western Carolina University, O*Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

A degree program in sociology, psychology or criminal justice can provide the necessary training for penologists. A sociology program may focus on how organizations impact individuals and society as a whole, while criminal justice programs could provide a background in criminal law, social deviance, and the corrections process. Students may also study ethics and alternative methods of criminal rehabilitation.

Step 2: Perform an Internship or Volunteer

Aspiring penologists can complete internships with local sociology-focused firms, police stations, or corrections agencies. In these positions, students can become familiar with various aspects of the justice system, including legislation, prison conditions and problems facing law enforcement agencies. Students may also volunteer with advocacy or human rights groups to get a firsthand look at prisoners and their issues within the system.

Step 3: Obtain Employment

Penologists study prison establishments and operations, and they may work in sheriff or police offices, state or federal corrections agencies, private prisons, or the U.S. Marshal's Office. These employers may require different degree levels and experience. Graduate school education may be required for certain employment or advancement. Those who cannot immediately work as penologists may gain experience in a related criminal justice position, such as correctional treatment specialist or private investigator, which can help build skills that can be used in penology.

In order for you to become a penologist, you should expect to not only obtain a bachelor's degree in sociology, criminology or another related field, but also to have hands-on experience with an internship.

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