Criminal Psychology – Definition, Roles, Where They Work And What They Do

The term criminal psychology has been defined in many ways, even today it does not have an accepted definition. It can be defined as a science, which helps research institutions to fulfill their mission more effectively by applying psychological knowledge to them.

In this field psychologists focus primarily on criminals, they can engage in a number of investigative-related activities, ranging from the profiling process to conducting psychological tests of people for courts / trials of various crimes.

People with this profession also try to find out why people commit these crimes, what their motives are, what made them do it. Cause-effect research ranges from a serial killer’s childhood environment to psychological stress , leading them to rob a bank to face financial problems.

Criminal psychology, also called criminological psychology, is the study of the wills, thoughts , intentions and reactions of criminals and everything that participates in criminal behavior is related to the field of criminal anthropology. Criminal psychologists are often called as witnesses in court cases to help the jury understand the mind of the criminal.

Roles of criminal psychologists

In 1981, one of the fathers of UK criminal psychology, Professor Lionel Haward, outlined four ways the psychologist can perform when professionally involved in criminal proceedings. These are the following:


In this situation, the psychologist participates in the evaluation of the individual to provide a clinical judgment, he can use evaluation tools, interview or psychometric tool to help in his evaluation. These evaluations can help the police or other competitive bodies determine how to prosecute the individual in question.

For example, it helps to find out if he / she is capable of being judged or if the individual has a mental illness, which means that he / she cannot understand the procedures.


In this case, the task of the psychologist is to conduct an investigation to inform a case, this may involve the execution of experimental tests in order to illustrate a point or provide additional information to the courts, which may involve false memories, credibility experiments of witnesses and others.

For example, this will answer questions similar to “How likely is it that a witness will see an object at 100 meters?”


This feature involves the use of statistics to report a case.

For example, a psychologist may be asked to provide the probability of an event occurring, therefore courts may ask how likely a person is to repeat offenders if a sentence is rejected.


Here a psychologist can advise the police on how to proceed with the investigation.

For example, what is the best way to interview the person, how best to question a vulnerable witness or other expert witness, how a criminal will act after committing the crime.

Today, as society around the world is much more developed than it was about a century ago, everyone agrees that the fight against crime is becoming increasingly sensitive and is no longer simply a job of ‘catch and imprisonment. ».

The modern approach also considers that the offender is a member of society, who after incarceration need rehabilitation, since the main objective is not only to punish someone, but to prevent them from committing another crime again. Another very important point is to take care of witnesses and victims, as they can have very serious stress and it is a matter of concern for the police to help psychologists to recover.

Where does a criminal psychologist work?

Criminal psychologists can be employed in various settings, some work as private consultants, others can be employed full time in government agencies, usually in law enforcement bodies, some of them prefer to work part time in universities or other educational centers .

They work closely with police officers and federal agents helping them solve crimes by developing profiles of various types, usually of violent criminals, such as murderers, kidnappers, rapists and others. They can also work with private attorneys, state attorneys, and public defenders and office.

Most criminal psychologists spend most of their time in court or in offices, conducting case investigations, conducting evaluations, interviewing people, researching the life history of the offender, providing expert testimony in court. Most of them work full time, but employees in private practices or educational centers tend to have more flexible hours.

In summary, criminal psychologists can be employed by:

  • Private practices.
  • Academic institutions.
  • Forensic hospitals.
  • Correctional facilities.
  • Psychiatric hospitals.
  • Police bodies.
  • Mental health centers.

Is work as exciting as it is shown on TV shows and movies?

In reality, the role of criminal psychologists is glamorized and overrated on television shows. As a rule, they do not accompany police officers in arresting suspects. Also, solving a crime has rarely been as easy as it is shown on television shows, it takes weeks, months or even years to find a solution to the crime.

Even though criminal psychology is not what you would expect from television shows, it is far from boring. Working in this field you can do something different every day.

For example, you can spend time solving difficult puzzles, advising criminals for a psychological evaluation, or even working in computer-related fields such as online scam.

What does a criminal psychologist do?

A big part of what a criminal psychologist does is study why people commit crimes, they may also be asked to evaluate offenders to assess the risk of recidivism (the likelihood that the person will commit a crime again in the future ) or make informed assumptions about the actions an offender may have taken after committing it.

Crime analysis

This field of criminal psychology mainly includes the linking of cases, in which the behaviors of the offender in a specific situation must be analyzed (according to the victim’s report, if available, or as inferred from the crime scene), and compare the data with similar offenses in the database.

For example, if matches are found (the same weapon was used, the offender’s threats were the same, the crimes were committed in a close geographic location), this gives the police the basis to investigate that potentially the same offender has committed both crimes.

Criminal profiling

There is no agreed concrete definition of profiling, even in academic circles, what we can say with certainty is that the end product of offender profiling is to create a psychological portrait. Criminal psychologists use crime scene information to draw conclusions about the nature of the person who committed the crime.

The conclusions should answer questions such as: Was the crime planned, or was it impulsive, under strong emotional circumstances? What is the approximate age of the offender? Is the offender likely to live near the crime scene? What is the gender of the offender? These types of information in most cases are very useful to researchers and help them to identify resources effectively.


In order to gather reliable and accurate information about the case, interviewing the people (witnesses or offenders) is of vital importance. The most important point about interviewing them is to consider that each person needs a different approach.

For example, a child who was an eyewitness to the crime can provide very useful information, but due to the stress that a child may have undergone, the psychologist must be very careful during the interview. Another example may be an offender, who does not want to confess, the police and the criminal psychologist use your offender profile to determine the correct and productive approach. In many cases, the way the offenders are interviewed will determine whether the police will reach the offender’s confession or not.

Rehabilitation of offenders

The role of the criminal psychologist is not just to help the police put someone in jail. In most countries, society and the government are concerned about the possibilities for prisoners to socialize after being released from prison and to achieve this goal, the competent government bodies work with the criminal psychologist and determine the specific steps. that can be taken to prevent criminals from committing a crime again and, on the other hand, to help them find their place in society.

Criminal psychology and forensic psychology

Criminal psychology is very similar to forensic psychology, but it is possible to differentiate between the two; Particularly in relation to your research range.

Both terms relate to the application of psychology in a legal context, but the research focus within forensic psychology is much broader, because unlike criminal psychology, it can encompass both criminal and non-criminal applications. By definition, it is restricted to examining crime and criminality.

As there are no universally accepted definitions of forensic psychology or criminal psychology, the distinction between the two is open to debate, however, I personally think it makes sense to consider forensic psychology as a broader term within which criminal psychology resides.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.