Popular culture is enamored with the judicial and law enforcement systems, as is evidenced by wildly successful, long-running television shows such as "CSI" and the "Law and Order" series. Some find the idea of working law enforcement exciting. Criminology and forensic psychology are two different fields of study with some overlap, and they lead to very different career choices.
The simplest definition of criminology is the scientific study of criminals, crime, crime victims and theories of deviant behavior. Criminologists study trends such as how well harsh punishments seem to influence crime, why people commit crimes and how we may help prevent crime. Criminologists are interested in empirical research and statistics regarding crime, but they are not psychologists. Criminology is a sphere of study separate from psychology.
Stated simply at the University of Oregon, forensic psychology is the application of psychology to the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists deal with issues such as whether a defendant is competent to stand trial, or whether a client was insane at the time the crime was committed. They may also work within the realms of public policy and and advise lawmakers about the wisdom of passing new laws.
Careers for Criminologists
Some graduates with criminology degrees go on to work with the courts. They may work with witnesses and victims or become court administrators. Some students choose to attend law school after finishing their criminology degrees, and are well-suited to either criminal defense or prosecution. People with backgrounds in criminology often work in law enforcement or corrections. Some social workers have backgrounds in criminology.
In most of the fifty states, forensic psychologists have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. A few states allow master's level clinical psychologists to be licensed to practice. Forensic psychologists in private practice differ from other psychologists in that the patient is not the client. A lawyer is usually the client. Forensic psychologists interview and assess patients, then send the evaluations to the lawyer or state agency that hired them. While forensic psychologists are practicing psychology, they are not giving treatment to the patient.
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