Penologist by definition is a professional who studies crime as it relates to prison management. Criminal justice and law requires Correctional facilities. Corrections in turn require skilled personnel to maintain order within. Penology is the study of criminal punishment and prison management and a penologist is the person tasked with conducting these studies.

A Penologist is a form of sociologist employed in Correctional facilities to find ways to keep the prison population from becoming unruly and unmanageable. To a large extent, few in the general public have ever heard of a Penologist, but the position requires careful thought, structured programs, and strength of character.

If thinking of a career as a penologist, this article will answer…

  • What is the exact role a penologist plays in the criminal justice system?
  • How can you train and prepare to become a penologist?
  • How does one apply for a position as a penologist?
  • What is the average salary for a penologist?
  • What is the occupational outlook for a penologist?

The Role of the Penologist in Criminal Justice Law

Most large Correctional systems employ Penologists, whether these are titled as such or not. At one time, the Warden of a prison was the person mainly responsible for ensuring that prisoners do not attempt escape. One tool in this endeavor was to keep inmates occupied in positive activities. Another was to perhaps find ways to encourage rehabilitation. Over time, these duties have been relegated to front-line corrections officers provided with specialized training. However, that is the function as it is put to paper.

“Everthing looks good on paper.” – Unknown

The goal of the Penologist is varied today.

English: Chart showing prison population in se...
English: Chart showing prison population in selected countries of the world per 100,000 population Data taken from World Prison Population List (eighth edition) by Roy Walmsley International Centre for Prison Studies, King’s College, London, 2008 Value for China includes 850,000 held in administrative custody (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With prison overcrowding becoming a major issue and many of those convicted receiving Life Without Parole (LWOP), the role of the Penologist is changing. At one time, the key goal was to reduce recidivism by rehabilitating inmates. The Penologist would establish programs for encouraging education and teaching skills which would be useful outside prison walls.

But many inmates are in for life alongside other prisoners who are not.

So a newer, more common goal of Penologists is to find ways to keep the prison population pacified so that riots do not erupt and escape attempts are minimized.

Training and Preparation for a Career as a Penologist

Because of the challenging nature of the goals of Penology, formal education by way of a University is generally required.  A BS in Justice Admin, Psychology, or Criminal Justice is advisable and a good understanding of prison history, structure, and related concepts is important. In addition, it would be a good idea for an aspiring Penologist to take Prison Management courses, Psychology, Criminology, and Sociology.

How to Apply for a Position as a Penologist

English: Huntsville Unit, Huntsville, TX Españ...
English: Huntsville Unit, Huntsville, TX Español: Unidad de Huntsville, Huntsville, TX (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Traditionally, a Penologist would work in a prison such as this.

There are a few ways to obtain a position as a Penologist. Some have graduated from an accredited University with a BS in Criminal Justice or Sociology and simply applied at local prisons. However, most start at the bottom rungs, so to say, with positions as Correctional guards. This provides them with the fundamental understanding of prison operations. When a position opens up for a Penologist, they then have a strong background with which to gain entry to the job.

In addition, the understanding gained from time as a guard provides advantages. For instance, many University students entering Penology directly from school lack a toughness required for the position. Prison life is tough and few inmates respect someone who cannot hold their own. For the Penologist to be successful, he/she must have a toughened exterior.


What is the Median Salary of a Penologist in the United States?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have a specific category for Penologist. Some Penologists are listed as Sociologists whereas others may appear in stats for first line Correctional supervisors. Still, the median wage for Penologists appears to be somewhere in the vicinity of $60,000 per year.

This is because this is the average wage for a Sociologist according to the BLS is $60K per annum. However, bear in mind that when starting out one can expect salary rates to be lower. To get a better idea of the expected salary a penologist may expect, consider some of the related positions from Correctional Systems around the United States.

  • Texas Department of Criminal Justice – Nearest equivalent position based on level of training offers a starting wage between 35 and 40K per year. No actual job for Penologist is found at TDCJ.
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons – While there are no openings as of July 15, 2017, most of the positions requiring a Masters Degree in the Social Sciences start out between G5 and G7 of the General Schedule salary table. This places a job related to penology as starting between $28,545 and $45,970 depending on time in Federal employ prior to applying to the specific job title secured as of 2017.
  • California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation – Likewise do not appear to have specific jobs for penology but related fields which the professional may qualify offer salaries between $4,542.51 – $9,800.79 per month.
  • NY State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision – No relative positions found.
  • Likewise for Illinois, Georgia, Florida, and several other states. In fact, not a single state in the U.S. has job openings as of July 15, 2017 for Penology nor provides any information related to possible salaries.

What is the Job Outlook for Penologists in the United States?

Realisitically speaking, the current job prospects for professional penologists is low and likely to decrease in coming decades. This is largely because of the current political trend in the United States of simply warehousing persons convicted of crime. Although most correctional institutions claim to have an interest in rehabilitation, this is seldom really the case.

Stating facts, Mission Statements do little to change the natural animosity which most correctional officers hold towards those in their charge. Thus, where penologists do exist, their efforts are often thwarted by security forces in the prison. Too, because of changing structures to the rank and file of most correctional systems, sociologists working in such facilities face daily challenges, not from the inmates, but from those in charge of the prison.

Whether this animosity on the part of prison officials will change with the reforms sweeping America circa 2016 or not remains to be seen. One thing is certain, those systems which do employ penologists usually do so more for the positive public attention this provides than for any real effort at changing lives. So the job of Penologist in a prison is a very difficult and often heartbreaking one.

As stated in a report from the U. S. Department of Justice Bureau of Labor Statistics,

“Unanimous agreement exists that the justice system ought to be efficient, effective, and fair. Less accord, however, exists about how best to secure these essential qualities or how to measure whether they have been achieved.” (Italics ours)

In other words, members of the top Criminal Justice Agency in the nation cannot agree on how to best achieve a goal which all agree should be sought. Thus, the problem is really a lack of leadership; a fact many Penologists discover quickly when working in a prison.

Additional Information/Comments Related to a Career as a Penologist

Penology is considered a form of Sociology, though a specialization. For the student considering a career as a Penologist, it would be wise to pay special attention to Sociology courses, especially those related to gang group activities and behaviors.

Given the bleak job outlook for penology in the United States, anyone obtaining a degree as penologist would be best served to seek corrections employment as a Warden. To achieve the rank of Warden in a modern prison requires starting either as a correctional officer or in an administrative function and working up. This means accepting salaries in the range of $35K to $40K per year for several years, but once the rank of Warden is achieved, pay scales increase considerably, generally starting around $60K per year.

View other Careers in Criminal Justice and Law

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