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How to Become a Penologist You’ll study and practice prison management and the rehabilitation of inmates as a penologist.

prison cells

Prison management and criminal rehabilitation go by a more official name: Penology.

You’ll work face-to-face with prisoners on a regular basis so strong communication skills are a must. Gaining familiarity with the correctional system is a good first step toward becoming a penologist.

Here’s what you’ll do on the job and what else you’ll need as far as education to work in this administrative-level corrections career.

What does a penologist do?

A penologist works in the prison system, has direct contact with inmates, and is involved in inmates’ rehabilitation and return to society. A few of their duties are rehabilitating inmates and creating plans and strategies to prevent riots and other disorderly conduct.

A penologist is involved in the following:

  • Inmate self-help programs
  • Prison architecture
  • Prison and jail management
  • Treatment of the offenders in prison

Penologists also work closely with prison guards, probation officers, parole officers, and criminologists.

4 Steps to become a penologist

Earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited program.

woman in college library studying with pile of books

Students interested in the field of penology must earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, justice administration, social work or a related field such as sociology. The study of sociology could be helpful as it focuses on organizational impacts on the individual as well as society, which mirrors how prison systems operate. Criminal justice studies may provide insight into the entire corrections process and how it works.

Find an internship.

woman filling out application for internship

Internships are a must if you want to become a penologist, and you may be able to find positions in police departments, correctional agencies or social services agencies that work with prisoners or prisoner advocacy. You should seek out an internship that will familiarize you with the justice system, prison systems and conditions facing prisoners. Your school may be able to help you network and find an internship.

Consider volunteering.

woman volunteering in shelter

There’s no better way to learn than from the inside and the more first-hand experience you have the better when applying for penology jobs later on. Volunteering with a human rights organization that advocates for prison reform is a great way to learn how the system actually works. Other volunteer opportunities might be local shelters, victims’ rights groups, sexual assault centers, emergency services or crime prevention and policing agencies.

Find a job as a penologist.

hands interviewing prisoner and taking notes on clipboard

Penologists study prison establishments and operations, and you may find work in a sheriff or police department, juvenile correctional facility, local, state or federal corrections agencies, jails and prisons, or even the U.S. Marshal’s Office. Some employers may require education beyond a bachelor’s degree, or may need you to take other tests, have a background check, get fingerprinted or take other training. Much of the entry requirements for the job will depend on whether you choose local, state or federal level bureaus to work in.

Penologist education

Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, psychology, or justice administration is required if you want to work as a penologist.

You’ll study a variety of topics during a four-year degree program including:

  • Goals and types of punishments
  • History of prisons in the United States
  • Why individuals go to prison and for how long
  • What life is like in prison
  • Current issues facing the correctional system (budgets, overcrowding, and the death penalty)

You might also consider taking a business course to learn the basics about budgets as well as a criminal psychology course.

Salary and job growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics, the median annual salary for first-line supervisors of correctional officers and facilities is $62,220. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Slower-than-average job growth is expected through 2031 due to budget cuts, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that jobs may be more readily available with private companies as state and federal agencies increase their use of private prison services.