With society’s obsession with finding out what goes on inside the mind of a criminal, it’s no wonder that the field of forensic psychology is so fascinating. Here is a short primer on the field and how it affects the criminal justice system.


Forensic psychology is the study of clinical psychology in legal situations. This refers to the study of the relationship between human psychology and the criminal justice system. This is a broad definition of the term, allocating room for research and academic study of psychology and law; the narrow definition refers to the professional psychological assessment of an individual who is currently participating in a legal process. This can be an assessment to understand a person’s state of mind during a crime, their ability to stand trial, witness credibility, and more.

Duties and Responsibilities

Depending on whether a forensic psychologist works in the academic or applied field, their duties and responsibilities will differ. Academic psychologists in this field focus on research methods to create more accurate psychological assessments, learn how psychology and crime relate to one another and are responsible for reforming psychological aide within the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists who work in the field are responsible for the psychological assessment of their subjects and in some cases, when they work in the correctional system, may be the primary psychologist for inmates. Because this is a clinical profession, all forensic psychologists are required to have a Ph.D. in psychology prior to entering the field; certification and licensing are also necessary.

Employment Opportunities

Forensic psychologists can work in a variety of workplaces. Academics in the field often work in labs, colleges, or research centers that focus on this area; they can also find placement in government agencies who support their work. Forensic psychologists in the field work for law firms, courts, the government, in mental health facilities, halfway homes, parole programs, hospitals, state correctional systems, and rehabilitation facilities. In some cases, forensic psychologists can work as consultants, building their own brand and working on contracts that they receive from law enforcement, the government, and private law firms. It is always a possibility that these psychologists can go to work in the intelligence community as instructors, training agents to spot criminal behavior through psychological analysis.

Importance in the Criminal Justice System

Forensic psychology has a great deal of importance in the criminal justice system; the study of human behavior gives law enforcement and the justice system a chance to see how and why crimes occur and how pre-existing mental health issues could contribute to crime. While study in this area is ongoing, forensic psychologists are putting forth an effort to help rehabilitate inmates with a history of continued offenses. The idea is to break the cycle of their behavior so they no longer have to be incarcerated for their actions. These psychologists also provide a professional and specialized recommendation to the court about whether a person is competent enough to stand trial; if mental health treatment is needed after a conviction, the forensic psychologist can also make recommendations on that.

This is a fascinating area of study for any psychology, but it does require an objective mind and some compassion. While this is a new specialization within psychology, it is one that is growing in prominence in the American criminal justice system. Now that the answer to what is forensic psychology has been revealed, those interested in pursuing this career can begin researching schools that confer this degree.